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The Medicare Shared Savings Program Final Rule: What You Need to Know

On December 1, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published proposed changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (“MSSP”) regulations, with the final rule being announced on June 4, 2015. While the timing of the release of the final rule isn’t optimal for those that may have considered participating in the upcoming round of entrants, the final rule further clarifies CMS’ intent to facilitate the movement to value-based payment methodologies. Many of the changes were adopted as proposed, while some others were altered from the proposed changes. Here are highlights of some key changes in the final rule and what it means to accountable care organizations (“ACOs”).

Extending the Time Period for Participation in Track 1

Previously, Track 1 ACOs (no downside risk) were limited to one three-year agreement period before converting to a risk-based track. The final rule allows participants to remain in Track 1 for an additional 3-year performance period, or a maximum of two three year periods without the reduced sharing rate that CMS had proposed. This proposal allows those ACOs who have seen modest improvements in their ACO operations and performance and/or those who are not ready for performance-based risk a little more time to implement and execute.

Assignment of Beneficiaries

The assignment of beneficiaries was historically a two-step process based on provision of primary care services by 1) Primary Care Physicians and 2) Specialists and Advanced Care Practitioners (“ACPs”) (e.g., nurse practitioners, physician assistants and clinical nurse specialists). The final rule revises the process to include ACPs in Step 1 and removes specialties which are unlikely to provide primary care services. This proposal effectively moves the beneficiary assignment toward the provision of primary care and allows the specialists who want to participate in multiple ACOs the flexibility to do so. Further, through rulemaking in the 2017 Physician Fee Schedule, CMS expects to propose that beneficiaries may attest that their main doctor is participating in a performance-based risk track ACO and be assigned to that ACO. Assignment methodology and fluctuations have been a pain point for many ACOs.  While this may not be a cure, it does work to address many of the concerns.

Sharing of Data

CMS previously shared certain claims data with ACOs only after ACOs had 1) notified their beneficiaries of that data sharing via direct mail or at the time of service and 2) provided them an opportunity to opt out of data sharing. This time-consuming process was onerous for the ACO and its providers and delayed the receipt and review of data which is key to the success of the ACO. It was also confusing for beneficiaries who received letters in the mail and at the point of care. The final rule allows ACO providers to post signs in their facilities with template notification language that will notify beneficiaries of their right to opt out by calling CMS directly. The proposal removes the ACO from the data sharing consent process – a win for current ACOs who have found the beneficiary notification process to be exceedingly burdensome and a distraction from the primary work of population health management.

Revisiting the Methodology for Establishing, Updating, and Resetting the Financial Benchmark

The current methodology based on the ACO’s past performance that CMS uses for setting, updating, and resetting the ACO’s financial benchmark is flawed. It gives increased opportunity to those ACOs with high utilization and costs and inadvertently penalizes those that have already moved to improve quality and manage costs. Additionally, the method gives diminishing returns over time as ACOs succeed in achieving savings year over year. Once the cost curve has reset, there will be little to no savings left to share. CMS sought comment on alternative ways of benchmarking ACOs for shared savings, including options of comparing ACO providers to the spending patterns of non-ACO providers within their region. In the final rule, CMS formalized the process to equally weight the historical benchmark years, as opposed to weighting those years 10% for benchmark year (“BY”) 1, 30 percent for BY2, and 60 percent for BY3 at the start of the second or subsequent agreement period; and indicated intent to commence rulemaking later this year to implement a methodology that would reset ACO benchmarks in part based on trends in regional fee-for-service costs rather than solely on an ACOs’ own recent spending. The consideration of a revised method that can better reflect the underlying health of the population to reset the benchmark is encouraging. A more precise and accurate reflection of the health of the assigned population will further improve patient experience and enhance the value of the care provided while achieving savings for CMS.

Incentivizing ACOs to Move Toward Risk-Based Models

CMS has finalized the creation of a new Track 3, a performance risk-based model, which will have a higher sharing rate than Tracks 1 or 2 at 75 percent of all savings or losses and would offer prospective assignment of beneficiaries rather than preliminary assignment with retrospective reconciliation. Additionally, CMS modified Track 2 to allow ACOs to choose from a selection of options for setting their minimum savings rate (“MSR”) and minimum loss rate (“MLR”) in an equilateral manner, with either no MSR/MLR, equilateral MSR/MLR in .5 percent intervals between .5 and 2 percent or equilateral MSR/MLR to vary based on the number of assigned beneficiaries as in Track 1. In the final rule, the new Track 3 will follow the same methodology as Track 2.

CMS also indicated its intent to further test the billing and payment requirements for telehealth services via its newly created Next Generation ACO model. It is anticipated that a telehealth waiver may be available to ACOs in the Track 3 model by January 1, 2017.

Additional refinements include minor changes to the eligibility for participation in the MSSP, including removal of the requirement that the ACO’s medical director be an ACO provider/supplier; and a more streamlined process for Pioneer ACOs to apply for program participation, among others.

While it remains to be seen if the proposed changes will encourage more provider organizations to join the MSSP, it is clear that CMS is creating various models to fit the needs of different types of organizations. Determining which model is appropriate considering the unique characteristics of your organization will be key to success.

Table. 1. MSSP Final Rule Changes and Characteristics of MSSP Tracks 1-3

(Note: Click here for a PDF download of the table or here for an image file.)

MSSP_Final_Rule-1.png

Source: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 2015

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