Working Together for Value

June 20, 2018 

By Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Working Together for Value

Over the past year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has engaged with the provider community in a discussion about regulatory burden issues. This included publishing a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting comments about areas of high regulatory burden. One of the top areas of burden identified in the over 2,600 comments received was compliance with the physician self-referral law (often called the “Stark Law”) and its accompanying regulations.  In response to these concerns, CMS undertook a review of the existing regulations to determine where the agency could consider potential areas for burden reduction. In coordination with HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, CMS is now soliciting specific input on a range of issues identified with the Stark Law to help the agency better understand provider concerns and target its regulatory efforts to address those concerns.

The Stark Law was enacted in the 1980s to help protect Medicare and its beneficiaries from unnecessary costs and other harms that may occur when physicians benefit from referring patients to health care entities with which they have a financial relationship. The law prohibits a physician from making referrals for certain health care services to an entity with which he or she (or an immediate family member) has a financial relationship. There are statutory and regulatory exceptions, but in short, a physician cannot refer a patient to any service or provider in which they have a financial interest.

Stark also prohibits the entity from filing claims with Medicare for services resulting from a prohibited referral and Medicare cannot pay if the claims are submitted. In its current form, the physician self-referral law may prohibit some relationships that are designed to enhance care coordination, improve quality, and reduce waste.

To achieve a truly value-based, patient-centered health care system, doctors and other providers need to work together with patients. Many of the recent statutory and regulatory changes to payment models are intended to help incentivize value based care and drive the Medicare system to greater value and quality. This has been a priority of CMS and HHS and is reflected in many of our current ongoing initiatives. Medicare’s regulations must support this close collaboration. The Stark Law and regulations, in its current form, may hinder these types of arrangements. To help better understand the impediments to better coordinated care caused by existing regulatory efforts, this RFI seeks to obtain input about how to address those concerns.

We invite you to share your ideas and suggestions as we work together for coordinated care and a better health care system for all Americans. The RFI can be downloaded from the Federal Register at: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/.

CMS Opioids Roadmap

June 11, 2018

CMS Opioids Roadmap

Although some progress has been made in efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate the crisis is not slowing down. However, it is important for our beneficiaries across the country to know that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is exploring all of our options to address this national crisis.

As evidence of our commitment to the health and well-being of patients, CMS is publishing a roadmap outlining our efforts to address this issue of national concern. In this roadmap, we detail our three-pronged approach to combating the opioid epidemic, focusing in on prevention of new cases of opioid use disorder (OUD), the treatment of patients who have already become dependent on or addicted to opioids, and the utilization of data from across the country to target prevention and treatment activities.

Current estimates show that over two million[i] people suffer from opioid use disorder, with a prevalence in Medicare of 6 out of every 1,000 beneficiaries.[ii] In order to decrease that number, it is crucial that Medicare beneficiaries and providers are aware that there are options available for both prevention of developing new cases of OUD and the treatment of existing cases. CMS is working to ensure that beneficiaries are not inadvertently put at risk of misuse by closely monitoring prescription opioid trends, strengthening controls at the time of opioid prescriptions, and encouraging healthcare providers to promote a range of safe and effective pain treatments, including alternatives to opioids. We are also working on communications with beneficiaries to explain the risks of prescription opioids and how to safely dispose of them, so they are not misused by others. These are just some of the ways we are looking to protect and care for people with Medicare.

CMS also recognizes that the opioid epidemic has affected people covered by Medicaid across the country in different ways – an estimated 8.7 out of 1,000 Medicaid beneficiaries are impacted by OUD. We believe one crucial effort to help on the treatment front is encouraging states to tailor programs to their populations by taking advantage of flexibilities that are available through Medicaid Section 1115 substance use disorder (SUD) demonstrations that improve OUD treatment.  CMS has worked with seven new states since October 2017 to approve waivers to tackle the opioid epidemic in their state. With each state having a unique population, we recognize the challenges that states face in creating programs to help, and we are committed to providing the support necessary to help states achieve positive results for their populations.

Beyond Medicare and Medicaid, CMS is also looking across our other programs to use all the tools at our disposal to address the opioid crisis. We are working to ensure that the private plans offering coverage on the Health Insurance Exchanges also provide options for treating OUD, and we are examining our quality standards across our programs to encourage providers to follow best practice guidelines related to opioid misuse diagnosis and treatment. Further, while we have initiatives specific to Medicare and Medicaid, we are also reviewing all of our programs to find solutions that are working at the local level with states, providers, and payers so that we can disseminate successful ideas as quickly as possible to help our partners know that they do not have to solve this alone.

CMS believes we can make progress in addressing the many aspects of the opioid epidemic in partnership with states and other stakeholder organizations. Every day this crisis claims the lives of loved ones and, in many areas in our country, we have yet to turn the tide. This roadmap is only a start, and as we begin to implement many of our plans and programs, it will continue to evolve. But the roadmap is also a demonstration of CMS’ commitment to explore and offer viable options to address the crisis, to share the information we collect with other agencies and organizations, and to protect our beneficiaries and communities affected by the crisis.

[i] https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html

[ii] https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/Partnerships/Downloads/CMS-Opioid-Misuse-Strategy-2016.pdf

A New Era of Accountability and Transparency in Medicaid

By: Administrator, Seema Verma, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

In his first 500 days in office, President Donald J. Trump has achieved results both at home and abroad for the American people, working to ensure government is more accountable to the American people. One of the many promises the Trump Administration has made and kept is improving accountability and transparency in Medicaid.

Medicaid provides healthcare for more than 75 million Americans, including many of our most vulnerable citizens, at an annual cost of over $558 billion. It has grown significantly over the years, consuming an every greater share of our public resources – from 10 percent of state budgets in 1985 to nearly 30 percent in 2016. Medicaid should improve the lives of those it serves by delivering high quality health care and services to eligible individuals at a maximum value to American taxpayers. As the administrators of the program, states, along with their local healthcare professionals who care for their neighbors, know best the unique healthcare needs of their community. Our success on delivering on Medicaid’s promise hinges on the critical role they play in managing the precious state and federal resources with which we are entrusted.

That’s why we have committed to resetting the state-federal partnership by ushering in a new era of state flexibility. We’ve approved groundbreaking Medicaid demonstration projections, including reforms to test how Medicaid can be designed to improve health outcomes and lift individuals from poverty by connecting coverage to community engagement. We are streamlining our internal processes and breaking down regulatory barriers that force states to commit too much of their time and resources to administrative tasks rather than focusing on delivering better care.

But with that commitment to flexibility must come an equal pledge to improve transparency and accountability. Too often we have struggled to articulate our collective performance in executing on our immense responsibility. This is best reflected in the fact that Medicaid is responsible for approximately half of the nation’s births, yet no one will argue that we are achieving the birth outcomes our future generations deserve. As we return power to states, we must shift our oversight role at CMS to one that focuses less on process and more on holding us all collectively accountable for achieving positive outcomes.

That is precisely why, last November, I announced that we would create the first ever CMS Medicaid and CHIP Scorecard to increase public transparency about the programs’ administration and outcomes. The data offered within the Scorecard begins to offer taxpayers insights into how their dollars are being spent and the impact those dollars have on health outcomes.  The Scorecard includes measures voluntarily reported by states, as well as federally reported measures in three areas: state health system performance; state administrative accountability; and federal administrative accountability. As states continue to seek greater flexibility from CMS, the Scorecard will serve as an important tool in ensuring that CMS is able to report on critical outcome metrics.

The first version of the Scorecard is foundational to CMS’s ongoing efforts to enhance Medicaid and CHIP transparency and accountability. We’ve begun this initiative by publishing selected health and program indicators that include measures from the CMS Medicaid and CHIP Child and Adult Core Sets along with federal and state accountability measures. For the first time, we are publicly publishing measures that show how we are doing in the business of running these immense programs, including things like how quickly we review state managed care rate submissions or approve state section 1115 Medicaid demonstration projects. Our stakeholders, including beneficiaries, providers, and advocates, deserve to have this information available to them.

And we’re just getting started. Public reporting of meaningful quality and performance metrics is an important and ongoing responsibility of states and the federal government given Medicaid’s vital role in covering nation’s children and as the single greatest payer for long-term care services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

That’s why, in future years, the Scorecard will be updated annually with new functionality and new metrics as data availability improves, including measures that focus on program integrity as well as opioid and home and community-based services quality metrics. Over time, we plan to add the ability for users of the Scorecard to generate year-to-year comparisons on key metrics, as well as to compare states on measures of cost and program integrity. While some variation may be inherent based on geographic, population, reporting or programmatic differences, the public should have access to information that allows them to understand how and why costs and outcomes can vary from state to state for the same populations. Then we can begin to ask important questions about what may really be driving differences in quality and efficiency.

CMS recognizes that continued insight from our state partners is a critical component in the maintenance of the Scorecard. I want to thank all the states for their assistance in the creation of this first iteration, particularly the 14 states that served on the National Association of Medicaid Director’s workgroup over the last six months. Many of the measures are only possible because of the commitment from states to collect and report on these important metrics.  Through this partnership with states, CMS will continue to advance policies and projects that increase flexibility, improve accountability and enhance program integrity and are designed to fulfill Medicaid’s promise to help Americans lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

%d bloggers like this: