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What Healthcare Must Plan for in Q4

Posted on September 19, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Ben Quirk, CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions.
Ben Quirk
In some ways, 2014 turned out to be not quite as cataclysmic. The early announcement of delaying the adoption of ICD-10 and the more recent announcement to allow hospitals/CAHs and Eligible Professionals participating in CMS’ Meaningful Use programs to attest using their existing Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT) took the pressure off healthcare providers scrambling to upgrade their CEHRT to a version that was both ICD-10 and MU-compliant. However, this is only a temporary reprieve through the end of 2014 and there are other priorities that must be addressed before the year ends.

Navigating the ever-evolving healthcare environment will seem much less daunting if you focus on these four areas:

  • Meaningful Use
  • Value-Based Payment Modifiers
  • Transparency
  • Open Enrollment for ACA

Meaningful Use (MU)

If you were not able to upgrade to the 2014 Edition EHR, you will still be able to attest for MU using 2013 criteria. This provides reprieve from the 2014 criteria that requires the implementation of and patient enrollment in a patient portal.

In order to be MU-ready, your organization must proactively:

  • Determine your strategy based on the final rule. Gather data and be prepared to attest for MU by the deadline for the MU program you participate in..
  • Create an audit binder which should include screenshots of required EHR configuration during the reporting period. Should you get an audit 2 years from now, you can refer to this binder for accurate information.
  • Prepare a statement citing why you should be allowed to opt out of those MU measures that you think do not pertain to your practice. Auditors will ask for this on any audit preformed.

All organizations should be prepared to start collecting data for MU 2 by January 1, 2015. This includes having a strategy around the implementation of a patient portal and patient enrollment, sharing data amongst community and other healthcare providers, and radiology interfaces.

Value-Based Payment Modifier

The current Value Based Payment Modifier for providers who serve Medicare beneficiaries is a descendent of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS). It is a way to keep the ACA cost-neutral, but there are some important things you need to know about this newer system. Value-Based Payment Modifier takes claims, Meaningful Use, and physician quality data and rates the quality of care you provide against your peers. Consequently,

  • When you report your Clinical Quality Measures or any clinical data to CMS, make sure your thresholds demonstrate that your practice is providing high quality care.
  • If your practice suffered from vendor problems with data accuracy in the past, this should be fixed.

Transparency

Transparency is something all providers should be aware of. Although available only in a few markets right now, all patients will soon be able to look up information about physicians before deciding where they would like to have their medical procedures done. For instance, if a patient decides to have an ACL repair, s/he can go online to compare exact costs and quality measures (based on the Patient Quality Reporting System) for ACL repair. Practices need to be aware that their prices and quality are being reported publicly. The implications go beyond losing reimbursement. You can actually be delisted from an insurance network. To ensure that your practice remains a viable option for patients:

  • Market your own practice and post your own prices.
  • Make sure you are reporting good quality data.
  • Use sources such as MGMA or OPTUM to see what providers in your area are charging and how you compare.
  • Determine how your reimbursement ranks vs. your competitors on the Medicare website and ensure data accuracy.

Open Enrollment for the ACA

November 15 marks the beginning of the second Open Enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act and there is no indication that this time around will be any easier than the first. Patients will be choosing plans, dealing with things very unfamiliar, and perhaps unaffordable, to them, like deductibles. This directly impacts clinics and the bottom line, especially with those patients who cannot pay their share of the costs. Last year, patients became the number one payor for many practices, even more than insurance companies, because so much revenue came from deductibles. That all resets January 1, but there are things you can do to avoid a possibly painful Q1 of 2015:

  • Check and confirm all patients’ eligibility, what plan they are on, and what their deductible is prior to their scheduled appointment, preferably through an automatic batch eligibility service. Keep this information in the practice management system.
  • Notify patients about their deductibles before they come into the clinic, and make sure to collect payments upfront, or keep a card on file.

The healthcare industry as we knew it for the past many years has ceased to exist. As we move into a new era of integrated delivery systems and a greater emphasis on value-based rather than volume-based reimbursements, the industry is going to remain in a state of flux before it stabilizes once again. The only way organizations are going to survive in this shifting landscape is by anticipating and planning for the next change so that they can stay ahead of the curve. The more an organization knows, the better it can be prepared to confront any potentially negative impact of the ever-evolving nature of the industry.

About Ben Quirk
Ben Quirk is CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in EHR strategic management, workflow optimization, systems development, and training. The company’s clients have enjoyed remarkable success, including award of the Medicare Advantage 5-star rating. Quirk Healthcare presents a weekly webinar series, Insights, to inform clients and the general public about government programs and industry trends. Mr. Quirk is also Executive Director of the Quirk Healthcare Foundation, a learning institution which fosters innovation in the healthcare industry.

The Health Insurance Demand Problem

Posted on July 11, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is Founder and CEO of Pristine, a company in Austin, TX that develops telehealth communication tools optimized for Google Glass in healthcare environments. Prior to founding Pristine, Kyle spent years developing, selling, and implementing electronic medical records (EMRs) into hospitals. He also writes for EMR and HIPAA, TechZulu, and Svbtle about the intersections of healthcare, technology, and business. All of his writing is reproduced at kylesamani.com

A family friend was recently admitted to the hospital after a traumatic motorcycle accident in Colorado. He’s not in great condition, but he’s hanging in there. In light of having just written this post about the cost of highly acute care, I couldn’t stop pondering about his health insurance.

Health insurance is a bizarre creature. Unlike other forms of insurance, people actually want to consume what they’re insured against, defying the very premise of the insurance model!

Confused? Let’s dive in.

No one wants to consume traditional insurance

People never file claims for traditional forms of insurance unless something bad has happened, like car or home accidents, natural disasters, or death (covered by life insurance). In some of these cases (like minor fender benders), the insured customer often elects not to file a claim in order to avoid a premium increase. When people do file traditional insurance claims, that means something sufficiently bad has happened, and the insurance system kicks in place to recoup the damages.

People do want to consume healthcare insurance

Healthcare insurance is a wildly different animal. Only a small percentage of total hospital admissions are highly acute, catastrophic cases. A large majority of the care delivery system services non-catastrophic cases, from preventive care to counseling, scheduled (and elective) surgeries, and skin rashes, for example. Patients want as much (non-catastrophic) healthcare as reasonably possible, and they want their insurance companies to pay for it.

This is a classic principal-agency problem. The person making financial decisions isn’t bearing the cost of those decisions; in fact, the person making financial decisions is empowered to blindly spend without thinking. To make matters worse, many healthcare providers encourage patients to consume costly diagnostics and procedures with little regard for value, knowing that insurance companies will pick up the tab.

Realigning incentives

As it currently stands, this system breaks most of the basic assumptions of capitalism: the principal-agency problem, pricing information, and ability to compare producers/providers.

Reducing demand and utilization of healthcare resources is impossible. Since patients are currently incentivized to demand unlimited care without caring about cost, supply will always find a way to satisfy demand. So, how can we realign the incentives to fix the system?

The only way to reduce demand is to make patients accountable for their own healthcare expenses. With the insurance customer suddenly conscious of the cost and value of their subacute healthcare consumption, providers will be incentivized to compete and offer lower costs.

Thus, insurance companies should provide patients “catastrophe-only” plans. These plans would fully and generously cover highly acute care needs, like trauma, cancer, or stroke care. However, like a vehicle insurance plan without comprehensive coverage, the cost of treating the medical equivalent of a keyed car (e.g. a purely speculative blood test) would fall to the individual.

As CEO of a company in the healthcare space, it pains me to know that I’m contributing to the healthcare incentive problem by providing employees with a traditional healthcare plan. But until healthcare insurers offer catastrophe-only plans, patients will continue to blindly consume. In fact, even the Affordable Care Act failed in this light; the national and state-based exchanges don’t offer a single catastrophe-only insurance plan. They are all bundled and are ripe for unbundling.

You Better Stay Healthy, or Else…

Posted on June 23, 2014 I Written By

Kyle is Founder and CEO of Pristine, a company in Austin, TX that develops telehealth communication tools optimized for Google Glass in healthcare environments. Prior to founding Pristine, Kyle spent years developing, selling, and implementing electronic medical records (EMRs) into hospitals. He also writes for EMR and HIPAA, TechZulu, and Svbtle about the intersections of healthcare, technology, and business. All of his writing is reproduced at kylesamani.com

As I read Jonathan Bush’s new book, Where Does It Hurt?the most salient problem that Bush discusses is that hospitals can’t effectively measure or attribute their costs. As a result, they can’t make good decisions since they don’t know how to attribute costs and revenues.

Although this has been widely known for sometime, the implications of this are particularly interesting. Since hospitals don’t know how much it costs to actually deliver care (especially multi-faceted, complicated care), their various revenue streams are effectively subsidizing their expenses in an almost random manner. Accounting for costs and attributing revenue is nearly impossible.

Bush notes that more focused care centers – such as standalone labs, imaging centers, and minute clinics – can afford to offer many of the same services as hospitals with equal or greater quality at a lower cost. They can achieve this because they have dramatically less operational overhead than hospitals and have staff performing the same core basic functions repetitively. Indeed, practice makes perfect.

There are hundreds of companies all over the country building healthcare practices based on this very premise: labs, imaging, procedures, home health agencies, ASCs, birthing centers, cath labs, urgent care, retail clinics, and more. Focused-centers are slowly eating away at hospitals by providing better services at lower costs.

Today, hospitals make enormous profits by dramatically marking up routine procedures and services. But that won’t continue forever. As the ACA pushes patients towards high-deductible plans so that patients act more cost consciously, they will seek the more affordable alternatives. Patients will not agree to pay a $300 ER copay and $2000 MRI when the urgent care center down the street offers a $99 copay and $400 MRI. As patients make better decisions, hospitals will lose some of their easiest, most profitable revenues: extremely marked up lab tests, images, procedures, etc.

What will hospitals be left to do when their easiest, most profitable revenue vanishes? They will shift focus to what they do best: performing miracles. Hospitals will compete for high-end services such as-complex surgeries and intensive care. However, because routine services subsidize the hospital’s overhead, they currently offer surgeries and intensive care at a “discount.” When hospitals can no longer subsidize their complex care with routine care, hospitals will raise prices for the highest acuity services that can’t be performed elsewhere. If you thought acute sickcare was unaffordable, think again. The cost of complex care is going to grow dramatically in the coming years.

3 Macro Health Payment Trends to Watch

Posted on June 5, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
It’s not a stretch to say that the healthcare payment system has hit some tumultuous waters. Medical billing hasn’t been easy for a long time, but with things like the Affordable Care Act, Value Based Reimbursement, and the shifting world of data driven healthcare there is a lot you need to watch out for when it comes to getting paid. What does seem clear is that medical billing is not going to get any easier.

Let’s take a look at three broad health payment trends worth keeping your eye on:

Increased Patient Pay
One of the major trends in the health insurance industry is the move towards high deductible plans. Some of this change is coming from employers changing their plans and the ACA insurance exchanges are driving this trend as well. I see this shift continuing as healthcare and employers work to make the patient more accountable for their healthcare.

There are two main things you need to do to prepare for these high deductible plans. First, make sure you have a solid method in place to know how much the patient owes before or immediately after the visit. There is no better way to reduce patient collections than to collect the payment while the patient is in the office. Many are ready and willing to pay, but some practices don’t have the systems that allow them to know how much to charge the patient before they leave. Second, look at your processes for collecting patient payments once they’ve left the building. Do you have a good strategy in place to make sure the patient knows how much they owe? Do you have a variety of simple ways for the patient to make the payment? The use of an online payment portal for patients is the most obvious way to make submitting payment to physicians simple for patients. If you solve these two problems you’ll go a long way to improving your patient collections.

Higher deductible plans are here to stay and so an investment in systems that address the patient responsibility portion of the visit are incredibly important.

Data Driven Reimbursement
With the increased adoption of EHR software, you can be sure that insurance plans are going to want more and more data to justify your reimbursement. This is not a new trend for insurance companies. They’ve been requiring more and more documentation to justify payments forever. However, we’re at the point where what they’ll require will be so complex that you better have your documentation ducks in a row.

Certainly this means that if you don’t have an EHR or other technology infrastructure you will likely have issues. This will become particularly poignant as payers start to pay based on population health and value as opposed to the current fee for service model. I literally can’t see how insurance companies could switch to value based payments in a non healthcare IT world. The data in these systems is going to drive future reimbursement.

Newly Insured
Offices around the country are starting to see a set of newly insured patients thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare if you prefer). Are your office staff prepared for these new patients? While millions of uninsured patients are getting insurance and visiting your clinic, offices are also seeing many of their existing patients switching from a previous insurance to an ACA plan. Does your staff have the time required to update records? Not to mention, are you accounting for the extra time spent doing eligibility checks for these new insurance plans?

A MGMA survey of mostly independent physician practices recently found that 62 percent of practices are struggling to identify patients whose insurance came from the ACA exchange and to verify their eligibility or obtain plan details. Most practices also say that patients who got their insurance via an ACA exchange are more likely to have high deductibles and don’t understand that fact. Half of the practices say they can’t provide services to ACA exchange patients because their practice is out of network.

Can you see the potential problems to your practice? What will this new patient population act like when it comes to paying you for your services? Certainly a shift by existing patients to new high deductible plans will cause issues like increased patient responsibility that we talked about above. However, the newly insured population is being shifted from the ER to your offices. If you consider the history of ER payments by patients, there’s reason to be concerned about how well this new patient population will do at paying their portion of the bill.

Plus, we’ve seen many practices that are finding it really difficult to determine their participation status with the payer. It seems that payers have cherry picked providers for their new narrow exchange networks and haven’t informed providers of whether they’re in or out. Once you finally do determine you par status, be sure your staff can recognize the new insurance cards so they can flag them or potentially turn them away if the provider isn’t par.

These are just a few of the major healthcare payment trends I see happening in the industry. I’d love to hear in the comments what trends you see happening in your offices. What other things should we be aware of in this constantly shifting healthcare payment world?

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

Surviving 2014: The Toughest Year in Healthcare

Posted on March 26, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Ben Quirk, CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions.
Ben Quirk
How bad is 2014 for the healthcare industry? We’ve all read about ICD-10, EHR incentives, Medicare cuts, and the Affordable Care Act. But the most telling moment for me occurred during this year’s HIMSS conference in Orlando. There was quite a bit of B2B enthusiasm, but among the civilians it was mostly a lot of stunned looks and talk about how to get through the year. Here are some of my observations:

ICD-10. CMS has made it abundantly clear there will be no further delays to the October 1 deadline for ICD-10 implementation. This is possibly the most significant change to the healthcare industry in 35 years, affecting claims payment/billing systems, clearinghouses, and private and public software applications. Anyone who provides or receives healthcare in the US will be touched by this in some way.

In a recent poll of healthcare providers conducted by KPMG, less than half of the respondents said they had performed basic testing on ICD-10, and only a third had completed comprehensive tests. Moreover, about 3 out of 4 said they did not plan to conduct tests of any kind with entities outside their organizations.

Incorrect claims denial will be the most likely result. CMS will not process ICD-9 Medicare/Medicaid claims after October 1, and there is a high potential for faulty ICD-10 coding or bad mapping to ICD-9 codes. Error rates of 6 to 10 percent are anticipated, compared to an average of 3 percent under ICD-9. ICD-10 will result in a 100 to 200 percent increase in denial rates, with a related increase in receivable days of 20 to 40 percent. Cash flow problems could extend up to two years following implementation. This will be a costly issue for providers, and a very visible issue for patients.

We advise our clients to be proactive in their financial planning. This should include preparation for delayed claims adjudication and payments, adjustments to cash reserves, or even arranging for a new/increased line of credit. Having sufficient cash on hand to cover overhead during the final quarter of 2014 could be very important, as could future reserves to cover up to six months of payment delays. Companies not in a position to set aside reserves should consider working with lenders now before any issues arise.

Meaningful Use. As with ICD-10, CMS has stated there will be no delays to MU deadlines in 2014. That means providers who have never attested must do so by September 30, or else be subject to penalties in the form of Medicare payment adjustments starting in 2015. Providers who have attested in the past will have a bit longer (until December 31), but the penalties are the same.

There is much dissatisfaction with the government’s “all or nothing” approach to MU, where even the slightest misstep can invalidate an otherwise accurate attestation. While the ONC has proposed a more lenient model for EHR certification in coming years, everything will be measured against a hard deadline in 2014.  CMS is offering some mitigation through hardship exemptions, based on rules that are somewhat broad at this point. Providers should consider applying for an exemption if no other options are available.

We advise against taking shortcuts or rushing to beat the clock on MU. Up to ten percent of eligible professionals and hospitals will be subject to audit, and large hospitals may have millions of dollars at stake. Being prepared for an audit means more than just making sure an attestation is iron-clad; internal workflow and communication are also important. A mishandled audit notification can result in a late response and automatic failure.  Data security should also not be overlooked. Medical groups have failed audits due to lapsed security risk assessments as required under HIPAA.

Medicare Payment Cuts. Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) cuts continue to hover over Medicare providers. Enacted by Congress in 1997, the SGR was intended to control costs by cutting reimbursements to providers based on prior year expenditures. But every year costs continue to rise, as do ever-worse SGR cuts (almost 24% in 2015). And every year Congress prevents the cuts via so-called “doc fix” legislation.

In early 2014 there was surprising bi-partisan agreement on a permanent doc fix, whereby Medicare reimbursements would be based on quality measures rather than overall expenditures. However, the legislation was derailed by linking it to a delay of the ACA’s individual mandate. As of mid-March there is still no permanent or temporary solution. Congress will almost certainly intervene to prevent SGR cuts, but by how much is uncertain.

The ACA. As the cost of insurance has increased over the past decade, high-deductible plans have become more and more common. Due to the Affordable Care Act, this trend has become the norm. Media outlets focus on the impact to consumers, and argue about whether more “skin in the game” leads to better choices or less care. What we’re hearing from the front lines is much more concrete: high deductibles are having a negative impact on revenues.

Very few people understand their liabilities under a typical health insurance plan. Last year George Loewenstein, a health-care economist with Carnegie Mellon University, published a survey showing that only 14 percent of respondents understood the basics of traditional insurance policies. At the same time, hospitals report that about 25 percent of bad debt originates from patients who are currently insured. With millions of new enrollees in high-deductible plans and an ongoing economic slump, the situation can only get worse.

The ACA had a further impact by reducing the amount of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) charity funds available, based on a projected increase in insurance coverage.  But with some states not participating in Medicaid expansion, combined with an increase in patients lacking the knowledge or resources to manage large medical expenditures, the reduction in funds comes at exactly the wrong time.

Providers can cope by adjusting revenue cycle processes. For example, new programs should focus on estimating patient liabilities pre-arrival, educating the patient at check-in, and instituting proactive billing/collection at the point of service. In general, providers must pay more attention to the self-pay process, focusing on patient education and offering transparent, easy-to-use billing and payment methods.

Value Modifier. This program has not been a worry for most providers thus far. Not because it won’t have an impact on revenue, but because they don’t know about it. A little-known provision of the ACA, the Value-Based Payment Modifier mandates adjustments to Medicare reimbursement based on quality and cost measures. The program is being phased in, and so far has applied only to group practices of 100 or more Eligible Professionals (EPs). In 2014, smaller groups of 10 or more EPs will be subject to the legislation. These groups must apply and report to the program by October 1. Otherwise, they will be subject to a 2 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements starting in 2016.

One of the most important aspects of the program is its definition of “eligible professional” when defining the size of a group practice. For the purposes of Value Modifier, eligible professionals include not only physicians but also practitioners and therapists. That means that a practice with 8 physicians, a nurse practitioner, and a physical therapist would qualify as a practice with 10 EPs.

Value Modifier is part of the growing trend toward quality-based reimbursement. Even commercial payers are considering some version of the program. The scoring calculations are complex and poorly understood, so we advise clients to get up-to-speed as soon as possible. Groups with high quality and low cost will receive incentives rather than cuts, with additional upward adjustment for services to high-risk beneficiaries. Groups that are not paying attention may be surprised by an additional hit to revenue in 2016. In addition, quality scores will eventually be published to the general public on the Medicare.gov Physician Compare website.  Sub-par or missing scores could have a negative financial impact on a practice.

Conclusion

These are only the most high-profile impacts to the healthcare industry during the current year. Much else flows from them: changes to workflow, to computer systems, to financial expectations. Tremendous pressures are coming to bear within a limited timeframe.  We’re seeing an industry in the midst of tectonic change, with 2014 as the fault line. It’s unclear whether these disruptions will be for better or worse. But there certainly will be winners and losers, and those who plan ahead are most likely to survive.

______________________

Ben Quirk is CEO of Quirk Healthcare Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in EHR strategic management, workflow optimization, systems development, and training. The company’s clients have enjoyed remarkable success, including award of the Medicare Advantage 5-star rating. Quirk Healthcare presents a weekly webinar series, Insights, to inform clients and the general public about government programs and industry trends. Mr. Quirk is also Executive Director of the Quirk Healthcare Foundation, a learning institution which fosters innovation in the healthcare industry.

PQRS Incentives, Penalties and the Coming Value Based Payment Modifier

Posted on February 20, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest post by Barry Haitoff, CEO of Medical Management Corporation of America.
Barry Haitoff
Much of the focus of healthcare has been on meaningful use and the EHR incentive money. Considering we just reached $19 billion of payouts, it’s definitely a topic worthy of attention. However, a topic which hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention, but is nearly or possibly more important than meaningful use is PQRS and the Value Based Payment Modifier.

Before I dig into some of the details and timelines for PQRS and the Value Based Payment Modifier, it’s really important to note that both of these programs are really just a preview of what’s happening with Medicare reimbursement. These programs are the core of the shift towards paying physicians differentially based on the quality and cost of the care they provide and away from the traditional fee for service model. We’ve seen similar value based payment arrangements with the advent of ACOs, CINs and other clinical networks establishing innovative payment models with payers. Understanding where these programs are going will give you a preview of what’s happening with healthcare reimbursement.

PQRS
When it comes to PQRS, much like meaningful use, there is both a PQRS incentive and PQRS penalty (carrot and stick if you prefer). 2014 is the final year to receive the PQRS incentive money (0.5% of Medicare Part B claims) and participants must submit 12 months of 2013 CQM data by February 28, 2014 if reporting by claims data, March 21, 2014 if reporting by GPRO web interface, and March 31, 2014 if reporting by registry data. (Note: The 2013 MU reporting deadline was moved to March 31, 2014, but the PQRS deadlines have not changed.). However, more important is that providers who don’t report PQRS 2013 data will be penalized 1.5% in 2015. Those who don’t participate in PQRS in 2014 will be penalized 2% in 2016.

Value Based Payment Modifier
While most people have heard about PQRS and are hopefully participating to avoid the penalties, many people haven’t heard about the Value Based Payment Modifier that is built on the PQRS foundation. While you could look at the Value Based Payment Modifier final rule, this Value-Based Payment Modifier summary is a much better overview of the program.

Essentially, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required that CMS implement a value based payment modifier that would apply to Medicare fee for service payments. This program will start with physicians in groups of 100 or more eligible professionals under the same TIN beginning January 1, 2015, and apply to all physicians and groups by January 1, 2017. CMS also recently announced that this applies to both par and non-par Medicare providers with 100 or more eligible professionals.

Here’s a look at how this new Value Modifier will work for groups of physicians with 100 or more eligible professionals and will likely be a preview of what’s to come for all Medicare physicians:
CMS Value Modifier

While the program starts with relatively small 1% adjustments, this quote from CMS also provides a clear indication of where they want to take this program:

We also anticipate that we would propose to increase the amount of payment at risk for the Value Modifier as we gain additional experience with the methodologies used to assess the quality of care, and the cost of care, furnished by physicians and groups of physicians.

What should you do to be prepared for this new Value Based Payment Modifier?
1. Participate in the PQRS program since it’s the foundation of what’s to come.
2. Keep an eye on changes to the PQRS and Value Based Modifier programs. They are changing regularly and it’s worth knowing what’s changing with these programs.
3. Work with your professional organization to provide feedback on these programs. No doubt they’re keeping an eye on them and providing feedback as part of the government rule making process. Make sure your voice is heard.

CMS looks at this new value based modifier as a budget neutral program. That means that there are going to be winners and losers. By understanding how these programs work, you can better assess if you want to work to avoid the payment adjustments or if you’re ok taking them on.

Like it or not, PQRS is the start of the movement towards quality based reimbursement and likely a small preview of coming attractions. Of course, if the SGR Fix gets funded by congress, then PQRS, Meaningful Use and the Value Based Modifier will be sunset at the end of 2017 and rolled into a new Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) that will start in 2018. More on MIPS in the future, but I think we can safely say that MIPS will be an amalgamation of all these incentive programs.

Medical Management Corporation of America, a leading provider of medical billing services, is a proud sponsor of EMR and HIPAA.

Health Insurance Exchange Q&A with John Kelly from Edifecs

Posted on September 27, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is an interview about Health Insurance Exchanges with John Kelly, Principal Business Advisor, Edifecs.
John Kelly
1. Where are we at with Health Insurance Exchanges (HIX)? What are the timelines for their implementation?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates creation of a retail market for health insurance, where individuals can shop, compare and buy healthcare coverage much the same way as they would a car. The goal is to provide greater access to healthcare coverage and eventually lower costs. While the ACA initiated the health insurance exchanges (HIXs) as the first step in creating a new retail market for healthcare, it specifically did not stipulate the Federal and State exchanges as the stated goal of the legislation. The stated goal was to reform the way Americans purchased their healthcare. Before the October 1st deadline has even arrived, the HIX model is already evolving beyond the federally funded exchanges. Private exchanges are already up and running and private websites (eHealth Insurance, et al.) have begun to integrate with public infrastructure. Much of the country has focused on the open enrollment date, but the real challenges come afterward, as the industry deals with the operational realities of participating on HIXs over the long term.

The public exchanges are due to launch next week, and open enrollment runs through March 31, 2014. Starting January 1, 2014 all health plans purchased through the insurance exchanges will go into effect, meaning those who bought their health insurance on an exchange will be covered.

2. This is implemented on a state-by-state basis, right? Are all 50 states ready?

There are numerous exchanges. Each state had the option to establish its own state-operated HIX or participate in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM). Thirty-three states chose the FFM, 15 states plus the District of Columbia are running their own marketplaces, and two states are partnering with the federal government to run their exchange.

In addition to the state-run marketplaces, another major component is the Data Services Hub, which is a tool developed by The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to interact with all 51 exchanges, verify applicant information and determine eligibility for enrollment in select health plans and subsidy programs.

Some states are more prepared than others, having made investments in customer service hotlines, technology testing, and consumer education campaigns. Generally, these states made early decisions to participate, so their implementations are more mature, though I doubt any would say they are all set to go. As enrollment gets underway, all of the exchanges will engage in constant improvements (much like any large technology project) to iron out bugs and improve functionality. For the states that didn’t make those investments, it will be a more difficult process.

3. What do health insurance exchanges mean for the health plans? What’s their reaction to the health insurance exchanges?

HIXs are creating a disruptive force for insurers and purchasers, a force that will change the way they conduct business. For insurers, it will change everything from attracting consumers to their end-to-end administrative processes (member enrollment, system integration, payment transactions, etc.).

It hasn’t been easy, particularly because of the compressed timeline between the federal government releasing detailed guidelines and the go-live date of October 1, 2013. Insurers are trying to balance caution with the prospect of 30 million enrollees and $200 billion in revenue within the next decade.

Many health insurers have realized they already participate in Medicare and Medicaid, a form of retail healthcare purchasing, so why not exploit the opportunity of these new exchanges? The reward potential is compelling, especially for regional plans that can now compete with national plans for employers who may choose to migrate to “defined contribution” plans. This is likely to be the largest open enrollment period in history nationwide. While it is not an ideal situation to increase enrollment under such a tight timeline, many realize the potential opportunities and are committed to making it work.

Perhaps the biggest change for plans is that they will have to learn to compete for members and customers, rather than employer groups and brokers. The shift away from competing for members began in the early 1990’s with “sole source” health plan marketing. Plans will need to re-learn some old skills. Plans will need to compete much more consciously on value as opposed to just cost. This was the primary and clear intent of the ACA.

4. What do the health insurance exchanges mean for an employer?

Up until recently, the consensus in the industry was that most employers would stick with the conventional employer-sponsored benefits system, rather than switch to a defined contribution plan. But as this recent Wall Street Journal article explains, many employers are now moving toward providing employees a sum of money to go buy their own coverage. This trend indicates that many companies are looking at HIXs as a way to control the increase in their healthcare benefit costs, while perhaps more importantly, providing their employees with greater choice. This is a huge sea change. While employers have known they need to continue offering healthcare coverage to attract the most talented workforce, they have been struggling with the spiraling costs. Many now see HIXs as an ideal solution.

5. What do the health insurance exchanges mean for patients?

These exchanges are part of a greater trend toward patients playing a larger, more active role in their own healthcare. For selecting a healthcare plan, HIXs are shifting decision-making from employers to their employees; in essence returning healthcare to a direct-to-consumer sales model that will redefine consumer expectations, customer service and healthcare consumer marketing. The overall success of this shift will be based upon the ability of consumers to be better purchasers. There is certainly more risk and effort involved, but the upside is a significant increase in choice and a strong incentive for the plans to compete aggressively on value for dollar.

6. What broader goals do you see the health insurance exchanges bringing to healthcare?

As I mentioned above, one mandate in the ACA is to establish a retail marketplace for healthcare as a means to improving access to healthcare and inevitably lowering costs. HIXs are the current manifestation of that goal, and it’s a positive disruption in the market. As we’ve seen with other such market force change, we may be able to predict the disruption, but we can only guess at the form it will take after the first wave of innovation and market reaction.

7. What are the biggest challenges for health insurance exchanges?

There are a lot of moving pieces, and as with any large technology project, there are always going to be bugs to be fixed and improvements to be made. There is no reason to believe each state’s marketplace won’t go live on October 1 or soon after; however, many won’t be perfect. This launch is similar to the “soft launch” of a retail store opening, and it may take a few months to get everything working. It will probably take a couple of open enrollment cycles to achieve a steady state. The long-term challenge is the same as any insurance product; will the actuarial base support the financial health of the system over time? As this is a market rooted in Federal Law, similar to the experience seen in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Connector (“Romney Care”), I suspect the system will demonstrate remarkable inertia and will roll slowly toward equilibrium.

These Exchanges have no choice but to continuously improve. By March 2014, I expect the industry will be thinking, “It could have been a lot worse, but we made it,” and they’ll be moving forward to make the next open enrollment much smoother.

Physician Acquisition: Is It The Right Strategy For Your Health System?

Posted on September 9, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Today I was talking with a vendor of EHR conversion services. I’ll be writing a lot more about our conversation soon, but I wasn’t surprised by his comment that mane of the EHR conversions that they’re doing are due to physician practice acquisition. Whether it’s a large hospital system acquiring the practice or a group practice acquiring a practice, there’s often the desire to move that practice to the same EHR platform.

As I thought about the trend of acquired physician practices, I ran across a whitepaper by athenahealth which asked the question: Physician Acquisition: Is It The Right Strategy For Your Health System? The whitepaper highlights how varying interpretations of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the launch of Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), bundled payment pilots, and the persistent pressure on commercial reimbursement rates makes planning for healthcare leaders a challenging task. However, what does seem clear is that doing the same thing you’ve always done won’t be a viable long term strategy.

All of these pressures are driving the physician acquisition strategy of most organizations. Does anyone see these pressures changing anytime soon? I don’t see any changes in this regard on the horizon.

Despite the widespread physician acquisitions that are happening, there are legal barriers (antitrust) that prevent a clinic from controlling all of healthcare in a community. What does this mean for an organization? How do they integrate with providers that they haven’t acquired? Plus, it’s naive to think that the acquired physicians are going to remain with your organization forever. We have seen the cycle before where acquired doctors leave the mothership and venture out on their own again. Organizations without a strong external strategy are going to be in a difficult position.

The whitepaper does make an interesting case for clinical integration versus full on practice acquisition. This is a great concept that every organization should consider. Can you clinically integrate with an organization that you don’t own? How would that clinical integration work? I think these integrations are still evolving, but the whitepaper had two case studies from organizations that were working on it.

What’s the right strategy for health systems when it comes to physician acquisition?

EMRs and Patient Satisfaction

Posted on August 7, 2013 I Written By

James Ritchie is a freelance writer with a focus on health care. His experience includes eight years as a staff writer with the Cincinnati Business Courier, part of the American City Business Journals network. Twitter @HCwriterJames.

When it comes to keeping patients happy, EMRs matter, a new study suggests.

More patients are logging on to access their own records – and they tend to like it, according to data from research firms Aeffect and 88 Brand Partners. About 24 percent of patients have used EMRs for tasks such as checking test results, ordering medication refills and making appointments. And 78 percent of those patients reported being satisfied with their doctors, compared with 68 percent of those who hadn’t used EMRs.

“EMR users are telling us that they are more confident in the coordination of care they’re being provided, and think more highly of their doctors, simply because of the information technology in use,” Michael McGuire, director of strategy for Chicago-based 88 Brand Partners, said in a press release.

Patient satisfaction is fast becoming a top priority in health care as it determines a growing portion of providers’ reimbursement. So far, it’s mainly been an issue for hospitals. Their patient satisfaction survey results make up 30 percent of  their quality score in Medicare’s “value-based purchasing” program, part of the Affordable Care Act. In fiscal 2013, hospitals saw 1 percent of their Medicare reimbursement put at risk based on the overall score, which also considers performance on clinical measures. The figure will increase to 2 percent by fiscal 2017. Private insurers are also starting to link payments with quality scores.

The trend is now taking hold outpatient clinics, as well. About 2 percent of primary-care doctors’ compensation is tied to patient satisfaction measures, and the figure is likely to grow in coming years, according to a recent report from the Medical Group Management Association. Specialist physicians reported, on average, that 1 percent of their salary hinged on patient satisfaction.

Patients cited several reasons for preferring that their doctors use EMRs, according to the EMR Patient Impact Study from Aeffect and 88 Brand Partners. Among them were ease of access to information and the perceived clarity and thoroughness of communication that the records systems provide. And adoption rates could be set to go higher: 52 percent of survey respondents said they aren’t using an EMR yet, but would be interested in trying one. Only 18 percent said they had no interest.

A host of other factors, such as level of attention and ease of making appointments, also factored into patient satisfaction, according to the survey of 1,000 consumers. But for doctors who have implemented EMRs, getting their patients to log on might be a simple way to create a more loyal following. In many cases, according to the survey, EMR-using patients had adopted the technology after being encouraged by a physician.

Does Healthcare IT Need Stability?

Posted on February 12, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 15 blogs containing almost 6000 articles with John having written over 3000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 13 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Last night during one of my favorite TV shows, Charlie Rose, he interviewed a guy about the economy. One of the discussion points that came out of this interview and that I’ve heard a lot in all the discussions about the economy is having some stability to the economy. Many argue that one of the biggest things holding our economy back is all the unknowns. When there are unknowns companies get paralyzed and hold back doing things they’d do if the economy felt stable.

I wonder if we’re experiencing the same thing in healthcare IT? Could we use some stability in healthcare IT?

Think about all the various unknowns that exist in healthcare IT. Let’s start with ICD-10. The pending ICD-10 implementation date is looming, but that date has been pushed back so many times it’s still unknown if it’s really going to happen this time. That’s the opposite of stability.

I’m sure that many also wonder if the same will be the case with EHR penalties. Will the EHR penalties go into effect? What exceptions will be made for the EHR penalties? I could easily see the EHR penalties being delayed, but then again what if they’re not?

Is it hard for anyone else to keep up with what’s happening with meaningful use? I do this every day and so I have a pretty good idea, but even I’m getting confused as it gets more complex. Imagine being a doctor who rarely looks at meaningful use. So, we’re in meaningful use stage 1, but meaningful use stage 2 is coming, unless you didn’t start meaningful use stage 1 and then meaningful use stage 2 won’t come until later. Oh, and they’re making changes to meaningful use stage 2. That’s right and they’re also coming out with meaningful use stage 3. However, don’t worry too much about meaningful use stage 3 because a lot of people are calling for it to be slowed down. So, does that mean that meaningful use will be delayed? Now how does the meaningful use stages match with the EHR certifications? Which version of my EHR software does which stage of meaningful use?

I think you get the picture.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned things like ACO’s, HIE’s, 5010, HIPAA, RAC Audits, Medicare/Medicaid cuts, or healthcare reform (ACA) to name a few others.

It’s a messy healthcare IT environment right now. We could definitely use some stability in healthcare.