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CMS Eases MACRA Quality Payment Program Timeline

By Leah Ralph, Director of Health Policy, ACCC


September 12, 2016
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In response to considerable pressure from industry stakeholders, medical groups and policymakers, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced last week that it would provide increased flexibility for practices to report out and comply with new data and performance requirements under the Quality Payment Program (QPP), created by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) passed last year.

In a blog post titled “Plans for the Quality Payment Program in 2017: Pick Your Pace,” Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt lays out four pathways to compliance with the new Quality Payment Program (in order of easiest to the hardest):

  • Report some data.  Providers can avoid a negative penalty by submitting some data as required by the Quality Payment Program, including data from after January 1, 2017. CMS states this option is “designed to ensure that your system is working and that you are prepared for broader participation in 2018 and 2019.” This option allows you to avoid a negative payment adjustment in 2019.
  • Participate for only part of the calendar year. Providers may submit data as required by the Quality Payment Program for a reduced number of days (not the whole year), and the performance period could begin after January 2017. Under this option, you could still qualify for a small positive payment adjustment in 2019.
  • If you’re ready to go in 2017, participate for the full calendar year. For practices that are ready to go and choose this option, their performance period will begin January 1, 2017, and they will submit data under the Quality Payment Program for a full year. These practices will qualify for a modest positive payment adjustment in 2019. CMS expects many practices will be able to do this.
  • Participate through an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM).** While the three previous options would fall under the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) track, the fourth option allows providers who are receiving a certain percentage of Medicare payments or seeing a certain number of Medicare patients through a qualifying APM (the provider is taking two-sided or “more than nominal” risk) to participate through the Advanced APM track. These providers would qualify for a 5% incentive payment in 2019 in addition to any savings produced through the APM and would not be subject to MIPS requirements. (**Remember CMS lays out a very high bar to qualify for the APM track in the proposed rule: 90% of physicians are expected to choose MIPS).

Until 2019, physicians will see an annual 0.5% increase in payments, at which point payments will then be determined by performance in the Quality Payment Program either through MIPS or an advanced APM.

CMS has said the decision to provide leniency was in recognition of the “wide diversity of physician practices.” The agency has also said it is considering alternative start dates, shorter performance periods, increased flexibility for small or rural practices, and finding other ways for physicians to get more experience with the program requirements before being penalized.

CMS originally proposed that providers begin to report on measures outlined under the Quality Payment Program in January 2017 but that payments would not reflect that performance period until 2019. However with the new guidance from CMS, the easiest option essentially does not require real provider participation in 2017, but allows providers to test whether their systems are ready to fully participate in the future. While the details of the measures will remain unclear until a final rule is released, the Quality Payment Program will require practices to submit information on quality measures, how they use technology, and what improvement activities they are undertaking.

Through our comments to the agency in  June, ACCC advocated for increased flexibility and more time for physicians to prepare for undertaking the new requirements under the Quality Payment Program. We also asked the agency to restructure the APM requirements so that they are more achievable.

We commend CMS for releasing flexibility prior to a final rule on MACRA, which we expect to see later this fall, and ask for continued accommodations for practices that face myriad new requirements in the coming months and years.

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