CMS releases final Medicare audit protocol updates

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the final protocols for 2017 audits of Medicare Parts C and D plans. This is the latest step in a process RegPulse has reported on during the initial release and as draft protocols underwent updates during the last year.

The audit protocol revisions affect the ways in which plan sponsors—such as Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs), Prescription Drug Plans (PDPs), and Medicare-Medicaid Plans (MMPs)—prepare and present information about their data universes to CMS. Sponsors that take part in these programs should review the changes and continue or update their programs assessments to identify the changes that affect them and plan appropriate responses.

Here is a summary of the relevant changes to the audit protocols in the final release, listed by program type:

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Amidst ongoing debate over future of ACA Exchanges, CMS finalizes rule for 2018 and a timeline for submission of plans

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last week released a final rule on the 2018 benefit year for Exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as a final timeline for health insurers to submit products for federally-facilitated Exchanges and other tools plans will need to submit products for ACA Exchanges for 2018. Notably, the final rule was published in the Federal Register on the same day that health insurers met with CMS Administrator Seema Verma and other Administration officials about the ACA Exchanges.

The final rule is intended to reduce volatility in the non-group and small group health insurance markets, and it finalizes with few changes policies included in a proposed rule published in the Federal Register on February 17, 2017. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, and its provisions take effect June 19, 2017. The policies in the final rule include changes requested by health insurers in previous years.

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CY 2018 changes and policy updates for Medicare health and drug plans

Summary of provisions and impacts

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its Advance Notice of Methodological Changes for Calendar Year (CY) 2018 for Medicare Advantage (MA) Capitation Rates, Part C and Part D Payment Policies and 2018 Draft Call Letter on February 1, 2017.

The purpose of the Advance Notice and draft Call Letter was to notify Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAO) and Part D sponsors of proposed changes to the Part C and Part D programs for the following plan year, including but not limited to:

  • Planned changes in the MA capitation rate methodology and risk adjustment methodology applied under Part C for CY 2018
  • Proposed changes in the Part D payment methodology for CY 2018
  • Proposed changes to the quality rating system and information the MAOs and Part D sponsors should consider while preparing their 2018 bids

CMS received many submissions in response to the request for comments on the Advance Notice and released final updates to MA and Part D Prescription Drug Programs for 2018 on April 3, 2017.
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House begins consideration of legislation to repeal and replace key provisions of the Affordable Care Act

The House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee today (Wednesday, March 8, 2017) are scheduled to begin marking up the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would repeal and replace certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) released the draft legislation late Monday, March 6, 2017.

The House Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over tax provisions in the legislation, while the House Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over provisions related to Medicaid.

In general, the draft legislation would maintain the ACA’s tax credits and states’ option to expand Medicaid in their current forms through December 31, 2019. Under the AHCA, new tax credits and Medicaid funding formulas would take effect beginning January 1, 2020.

The draft legislation in its current form would not make changes to the individual tax exclusion for employer-sponsored coverage, or certain ACA health insurance market reforms, including allowing adult children up to age 26 to stay on a parent’s health coverage and a prohibition on denying coverage or rate setting based on an individual’s pre-existing health conditions.

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CMS releases proposed rule intended to provide more certainty on health insurance markets, extends deadlines for plans to file products with Exchanges

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, released a proposed rule intended to provide health insurers greater certainty about the individual and small group markets in the 2018 benefit year under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Days later, a CMS division proposed providing plans with more time to file products for the federally-facilitated Exchanges in order to allow time to modify products in response to the proposed changes.

The policies proposed in the regulation generally have been requested by health insurers in previous years.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing insurers, issued a statement, saying, “We appreciate the Administration’s efforts in proposing policies intended to address stability, affordability, and choice, helping consumers get the coverage they need.”

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CMS provides updates on Quality Payment Program and new episode payment models as MACRA pushes forward

In late December 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released additional guidance for implementing the significant law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) as a follow-up to the Final Rule released in October 2016.

While the fate of other legislation such as the Affordable Care Act is in question, the implementation of MACRA continues to move forward as planned with bipartisan support.  The released guidance includes a number of updates to support providers transitioning to the Quality Payment Program (QPP) established by MACRA, including the 2017 quality measure performance benchmarks to be used in the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) and the patient relationship categories and codes used to measure cost under MIPS.

Additionally, CMS finalized three new episode payment models with tracks which may be considered advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs) for purposes of the QPP, as well as released additional information on the ACO Track 1+ model, which will qualify as an advanced APM in 2018.

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President Obama signs 21st Century Cures Act, including provisions with significant implications for health plans and health care providers

President Obama on Tuesday, December 13, 2016, signed into law H.R. 34, the 21st Century Cures Act. Although the law focuses largely on the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and issues of primary interest to life sciences companies, the new law includes provisions with significant implications for health care providers and health plans, especially those offering Medicare Advantage products. The provisions in some cases will affect compliance plans, Medicare payments, and strategic opportunities for organizations, making it imperative that provider and plan leaders take time to review how the 21st Century Cures Act might affect their organization.

Highlights of key provisions affecting health plans and health care providers are provided below.

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CMS adds new changes to Medicare audit rules already under review

The Medicare Parts C and D Oversight and Enforcement Group (MOEG) of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have released updates to the proposed 2017 Program Audit Protocols and Data Requests (CMS-10191) for Medicare Parts C and D that RegPulse first commented on in August 2016.

These changes have arisen, in part, because of public comments the agency received during the first 60-day comment period on the revised rules. Health plans that participate in these programs should familiarize themselves with the changes, especially the particular elements that have substantive effect, and may wish to participate in the new public comment period that ends December 5, 2016.

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CMS releases rules to implement site-neutral Medicare payments for certain provider-based departments starting January 1, 2017

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Tuesday, November 1, 2016, moved forward with the adoption of a site-neutral Medicare payment policy for non-excepted (non-grandfathered) items and services provided at certain off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs). CMS provided the guidance as part of the final rule on the Medicare Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS).

The final rule is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on November 14, 2016.

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CMS continues push to offer additional Advanced APM options under MACRA

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, announced additional options for physicians and other clinicians paid under the Medicare Part B Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) to participate in Advanced Alternative Payment Models (Advanced APMs) in 2017, the first performance year under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). CMS also announced additional options for clinicians to participate in Advanced APMs in 2018.

Under MACRA, Advanced APMs are risk-bearing, coordinated care models that link reimbursement to certain quality and outcomes measures and require the use of certified electronic health record technology (CEHRT).

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