Monday, May 13, 2019

Medicare Tries to Help Rural Hospitals

The federal government is throwing a lifeline to rural hospitals. CMS announced on April 23:


Today, the Trump Administration proposed changes that build on the progress made over the last two years and further the agency’s priority to transform the healthcare delivery system through competition and innovation while providing patients with better value and results. The proposed rule would update Medicare payment policies for hospitals under the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and the Long-Term Care Hospital (LTCH) Prospective Payment System (PPS) for fiscal year 2020 and advances two key CMS priorities, “Rethinking Rural Health” and “Unleashing Innovation,” by proposing historic changes to the way Medicare pays hospitals.

“One in five Americans are living in rural areas and the hospitals that serve them are the backbone of our nation’s healthcare system,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Rural Americans face many obstacles as the result of our fragmented healthcare system, including living in communities with disproportionally higher poverty rates, more chronic conditions, and more uninsured or underinsured individuals. The Trump administration is committed to addressing inequities in health care, which is why we are proposing historic Medicare payment changes that will help bring stability to rural hospitals and improve patients’ access to quality healthcare.”

The inpatient hospital wage index specifies how inpatient payment rates are adjusted to account for local differences in wages that hospitals face in their respective labor markets. It is intended to measure differences in hospital wage rates across geographic regions and is updated annually based on wage data reported by hospitals. Hospitals located in areas with wages less than the national average receive a lower Medicare payment rate than hospitals located in areas with wages higher than the national average. For example, a hospital in a rural community could receive a Medicare payment of about $4000 for treating a beneficiary admitted for pneumonia while a hospital in a high wage area (like many urban communities) could receive a Medicare payment of nearly $6000 for the same case, due to differences in their wage index.

In last year’s proposed rule, CMS invited comments on changes to the Medicare inpatient hospital wage index. Many responses reflected a common concern that the current wage index system makes the disparities between high and low wage index hospitals worse. High wage index hospitals, by virtue of higher Medicare payments, can afford to pay their staff more, allowing the hospitals to continue operating as high wage index hospitals. Conversely, low wage index hospitals often cannot afford to pay wages that would allow them to climb to a higher wage index. Over time, this creates a downward spiral that increases the disparity in payments between high wage index hospitals and low wage index hospitals, and payment for rural hospitals and other low wage index hospitals declines.

To address these disparities, CMS is proposing to increase the wage index of low wage index hospitals. This change would ensure that people living in rural areas have access to high quality, affordable healthcare. CMS is considering several ways to implement this change, and the agency looks forward to comments on the different approaches.

The Trump Administration is also announcing proposals that would ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to a world-class healthcare system by unleashing innovation in medical technology and removing potential barriers to innovation and competition in order to expedite access to novel medical technology.

“Transformative technologies are coming to the private market, but Medicare’s antiquated payment systems have not contemplated these technologies,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “I am particularly concerned about cases that have been reported to the agency in which Medicare’s inadequate payment has led hospitals to curtail access to needed therapies. We must continually update our policies in response to the rapid pace of advancement in medical science.”

To ensure that Medicare payment supports broad access to transformative technologies, CMS is proposing several payment policy changes. These include proposing to increase the new technology add-on payment, which provides hospitals with additional payments for cases with high costs involving new technologies, including potentially new antimicrobial therapies. The increase would apply to all technologies receiving add-on payments starting on October 1, 2019, so that when a physician determines that a patient needs a qualifying new therapy, the hospital at which the therapy is administered would be able to more completely cover its costs. This change would promote patient access and reduce the uncertainty that innovators face regarding payment for new medical technologies for Medicare beneficiaries.

CMS is also proposing to modernize payment policies for medical devices that meet FDA’s Breakthrough Devices designation. For devices granted this expedited FDA approval, real-world data regarding outcomes for the devices in different patient populations is often limited. At the time of approval, it can be challenging for innovators to meet the requirement for evidence demonstrating “substantial clinical improvement” in order to qualify for new technology add-on payments.

Therefore, CMS is proposing to waive for two years the requirement for evidence that these devices represent a “substantial clinical improvement.” Waiving this requirement would provide additional Medicare payment for the technologies for a period of time while real-world evidence is emerging, so Medicare beneficiaries do not have to wait for access to the latest innovations.

In the proposed rule, CMS highlights the unique challenges associated with paying for CAR-T technology in particular. CAR-T is the first-ever gene therapy and is used to treat certain forms of cancer for which no other treatment options exist. The agency is considering several changes to payment policies for CAR-T for 2020, including additional changes to new technology add-on payments for CAR-T and changes to the formula that is used to calculate payments to hospitals for CAR-T. These changes may help ensure adequate payments to hospitals administering this groundbreaking therapy while CMS continues our work to ensure that we pay for innovative therapies appropriately.

The IPPS and LTCH PPS proposed rule is one of five Medicare payment rules released on a fiscal year cycle, to define payment and policy for inpatient hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, inpatient psychiatric facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and hospice. Modernizing and strengthening Medicare through rulemaking is critical to achieving CMS’s objectives, and the IPPS and LTCH PPS proposed rule is an opportunity to further advance its goals.

For a fact sheet on the proposed rule (CMS-1716-P), please visit: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/fiscal-year-fy-2020-medicare-hospital-inpatient-prospective-payment-system-ipps-and-long-term-acute

To view the proposed rule (CMS-1716-P), please visit: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/05/03/2019-08330/medicare-program-hospital-inpatient-prospective-payment-systems-for-acute-care-hospitals-and-the
Modernhealthcare.com used Alabama as an example of how this will help rural hospitals:

Alabama hospitals, some of the lowest-reimbursed hospitals in the country, could get a $34 million boost next fiscal year if the CMS holds firm on a plan to tweak the hospital wage index.

Starting in October, the agency wants to raise the index for low-wage hospitals at the expense of decreasing it for high-wage hospitals. The goal is to help close a wide payment disparity that some advocates say is fueling the rash of rural hospital closures. Still, rural hospitals are worried about how the change will affect them, and if it will be enough. Meanwhile, urban hospitals are likely to fight the expected reimbursement cut.

The change is one of the most sweeping ideas in the CMS’ inpatient prospective payment system proposed rule, which was issued April 23 and totals more than 1,800 pages. Overall, the proposal called for a net 3.2% pay raise—roughly $4.7 billion—for hospitals compared with fiscal 2019.

“A hospital in rural Alabama can receive a Medicare payment of $4,000. A hospital in a high-wage area could receive a payment of $6,000 for the same case,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a call last week with reporters.... Rest of article.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can anyone describe what the rural healthcare situation was like prior to the government getting involved?

It is my understanding from anecdotes that it was far cheaper at least.

Anonymous said...

12:57—cheaper, but with less insurance coverage so less affordable, & a lot less care

Anonymous said...

12:57

Yep.

And a lot of people died because care wasn't available when needed. You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

CMS is the death panel that everyone was worried about. Once you reach 75 they want you put out to pasture and given comfort measure only. When we get a one payer system the resounding word from the government will be no, you no longer qualify for this test/scan/procedure.

Anonymous said...

What an absolute crock of shit.

This is a government bailout by Republicans all the while Republicans try to get rid of the ACA.

Perfect example of what it means to be a rudderless ship.

Anonymous said...

Good ain’t cheap and cheap good

Anonymous said...

I'm interested to see how the 20+ million newborns of "migrants" that will be added to the rolls will affect this program.

I'm going out on a limb to speculate that inadequate will be an accurate description.

Anonymous said...

3:26 - Please take a minute to tell us about your experience with the ACA...and how the rudder worked with Obama in the vessel's wheelhouse. Be factual and don't get sidetracked with talking points of how something was hoped to work but never did.

Take your time - We'll be here all night.

Anonymous said...

This is a government bailout by Republicans all the while Republicans try to get rid of the ACA.

Well, then the effort is as bi-partisan as the passage of Obamacare though I'm fairly certain you weren't here complaining about that.

Anonymous said...

2:52—“CMS is the death panel that everyone was worried about. Once you reach 75 they want you put out to pasture and given comfort measure only.”

Utterly, stupidly false.

You want a death panel? Blue Cross hires ‘em.

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