"The law not only scraps the sustainable growth-rate formula for physician payment, it consolidates the diverse programs for rewarding or penalizing physicians. The CMS no longer will calculate separate payments for reporting quality measures, improving performance or meeting meaningful-use standards.This is horrible. Our government is about to authorize the use corrupt and completely unaccountable certifying organizations to serve as a metric with which to determine the "value" of health care for our patients and remuneration for working physicians nationwide. In fact, the certifying organizations the bill authorizes are being sued in federal court for possible anti-trust violations. How embarrassing would our U.S. Senators look in the eyes of seniors everywhere if that suit is found in favor of the plaintiffs? The whole Medicare SGR Replacement Bill, H.R. 2, would fall apart. Are our U.S. Senators really ready to put their political careers on the line for one flawed bill? (Note the senators who were lobbied were never privy to this pending lawsuit.)
Instead, the CMS will substitute a composite MIPS score for each physician participating in the Medicare program. When measured against clinical peers, a physician's score could result in the agency rewarding or penalizing him or her up to 5% of annual revenue starting in 2020. That rises to 9% of revenue for 2022 and beyond.
While the program is designed to be revenue-neutral, it allocates $500 million for rewards, just in case a majority of physicians turn out to be like the kids at Lake Wobegon and achieve universally high composite scores.
The overall score will be based on how well participating physicians perform in four separate categories: quality measures (30% of the total); resource use (30%); achieving meaningful use (25%); and clinical practice-improvement initiatives (15%). Each component will be determined by agency rulemaking and stakeholder input.
But some stakeholders are being given a greater say in the process (others are invited to participate, of course). The law, for instance, asks “eligible professional organizations” to recommend quality measures for use in the program. It defines eligible professional organizations as “nationally recognized specialty boards of certification.”
It also says physicians can achieve the maximum score on the clinical practice-improvement component by being part of a certified medical home or “comparable specialty practice.” The law gives “eligible professional organizations” the ability to make that determination. The bill also mentions “practice assessments related to maintaining certification” as one way to achieve a maximum clinical practice-improvement score.
The special role given physician specialty boards in the SGR replacement bill heightens the stakes in the recent controversy swirling around the costly and complicated recertification process at the American Board of Internal Medicine, one of the largest boards in the nation. A rival group is seeking to substitute continuing medical education credits for recertification test-taking, which the ABIM and patient and consumer advocacy groups oppose.
The flare-up has brought some of the more unsavory and unscientific aspects of the self-regulating physician recertification process to light. A recent New England Journal of Medicine perspective by ABIM critic Dr. Paul Teirstein of the Scripps Clinic noted that the latest studies have shown no relationship between physician recertification and performance on quality measures—the very task given to certification boards in the SGR replacement bill.
Teirstein also accused the ABIM of being “a private, self-appointed certifying organization” that charges exorbitant fees “unfettered by competition” for its products and tests.
The certification boards aren't major powerhouses on the Washington lobbying scene. Last year, for instance, the ABIM spent only $160,000 on the lobbying firm of Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen Bingel & Thomas, according to Senate lobbying records. But that firm's chief healthcare lobbyist, Dean Rosen, once served as an adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and apparently still has good connections with the staffers who drafted the language of the SGR replacement bill.
As we editorialized here two weeks ago, a permanent end to SGR is the right thing to do. And creating MIPS to replace multiple rewards programs will lessen the administrative burden on physicians and physician practices, and incentivize them to move toward value-based care payment models.
But other stakeholders will need to remain vigilant to ensure that self-interested physician specialty boards don't play an outsized role in setting the parameters of the program—especially when it comes to determining what constitutes quality and clinical-practice improvement."
(To think that the policy divisions of our sub-specialty medical societies are also complicit in this scheme is even more appalling.)
Is this what our patients need? Are we, the front line working physicians, going to allow the self-serving money trail of government grants to determine what constitutes quality care for our patients and "value" for our health care system?
All physicians AND their patients need to stop and pick up the phone Monday morning. Call BOTH your Senators and flood the switch boards. Tell them to vote "NO" on the Medicare SGR Replacement Bill (H.R. 2).
Unless, of course, you think $2.3 million dollar condominiums with chauffeur-driven BMW 7-series town cars is how our nation should define health care "value" in the years ahead for our Medicare patients.
Addendum: Here's even more lobbying to CMS that pushed for ABMS "board certification" to be the only board used for CMS's Physician Compare website in Sept 2014.