RheumWATCH Archives


Read the RheumWATCH archives on topics such as rheumatology advocacy, policy updates, insurance advocacy, and practice management.


ACR RheumWATCH: March 3, 2016

ACR Approves New Position Statement on Patient Safety and Site of Service for Infusible Biologics

The ACR Board of Directors recently approved a position statement, developed by the ACR Committee on Rheumatologic Care, pertaining to patient safety and site of service for infusible biologics. The ACR strongly supports the use of biologic agents as necessary treatments for rheumatic diseases, and recognizes all biologics as complex. The position of the ACR is that proper administration of IV biologics should take place under the close supervision of a physician in a physician office, infusion center or hospital rather than in a patient’s home.

Read the full position statement >

Deadline Extended: Safety Net Hardship Exemption for 2015 EHR Meaningful Use

Earlier this year as part of efforts to allow physicians to avoid a potential 3% penalty in 2017, the ACR, AMA and other groups worked for the successful passage of a law allowing CMS to provide blanket hardship exemptions from 2015 Meaningful Use penalties to providers who apply. The exemption would prevent financial penalties scheduled for 2017. CMS recently extended the deadline for applications. If you or your practice did not successfully meet Meaningful Use for an EHR reporting period in 2015, the deadline for applying for an exemption is now July 1, 2016. CMS recently clarified that submission of a hardship exception application does not prevent a provider from attesting and receiving an incentive payment if Meaningful Use requirements are met. The ACR recommends that all members subject to the Meaningful Use program apply for the hardship exemption.

The application and instructions are available on the CMS EHR Incentive Programs website. Both individual and group application processes are now available, the latter of which allows more than one physician to apply at once. You can also access a checklist created by CMS for more information.

Deadline Approaching for Letters of Interest from Potential Guideline Development Partners

The ACR invites letters of interest from those who wish to partner with the ACR to develop new clinical practice guidelines for the management of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and vasculitis. Letters of interest must be submitted via email by March 14, 2016.

Share your expertise >

Message from the ACR President

Joan M. Von Feldt American College of Rheumatology President-ElectThere is no denying that the past few years have been a time of immense change in healthcare. Sweeping pieces of legislation have fundamentally altered the way we practice medicine. This is absolutely the case when it comes to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (called MACRA for short). MACRA is an enormous piece of legislation signed into law this past April. The bill gained immediate notoriety because it killed the Medicare sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula—an oft-criticized, nearly 20-year-old system used to calculate physician payment reductions. Congress’s rare act of bipartisanship was a victory for rheumatologists; lawmakers not only eradicated a proposed double-digit pay cut, they also opened up new roads to long-term financial stability for physicians.

However, the so-called “permanent doc fix” is anything but simple. From my perspective, MACRA is actually a bigger change to the overall healthcare landscape than even the Affordable Care Act.

This is because the legislation largely reworks how doctors are reimbursed by Medicare. It also demands new, active engagement and decision making on the part of providers. For this reason, MACRA must be on every rheumatologist’s radar. It certainly is on the radar of our leadership team at the American College of Rheumatology and, as such, we will take an active role in assisting member rheumatologists in the transition to a new era of physician payments.

Before delving into the details of MACRA—as well as the choices that lie ahead for rheumatologists—I want to clearly establish what I hope readers will take away from this column.

First, time is of the essence: There is a very real deadline on Jan. 1, 2017. This is the date that data from your practice will start counting for Medicare reimbursement in 2019. This means that the time to start thinking about MACRA is right now. Second, all providers will have to choose one of two payment tracks: the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) or Alternative Payment Models (APMs). Third, the ACR and its electronic patient data reporting system, the Rheumatology Informatics System for Effectiveness (RISE) Registry, will be an increasingly important resource in the months ahead, especially for those who select the MIPS track. And finally, it is imperative that the rheumatology community understands the impending long-term effects of MACRA and engages in strategic thought about the best option for their practice. I want to remind you that the ACR will be there, providing up-to-date information and support for its members.

“Choose Your Own Adventure:” MIPS vs APMs

MACRA not only eliminated SGR, it also replaced the SGR with an alternative set of predictable, annual baseline payment increases and two potential payment tracks, from which all providers must choose. Both payment models fit into the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS’s) larger goal of paying for value, rather than fee-for-service. What exactly does this mean? Well, through 2019, there will be an annual baseline payment increase of 0.5%. From that point on, annual automatic increases come to an end and physicians will have to “choose their own adventure” when it comes to Medicare reimbursement. Almost without exception, every Medicare provider in the country will be forced into one of these two pathways.

One pathway is the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). Under MIPS, elements of the Physician Quality Reporting System, the Value-Based Payment Modifier and the Meaningful Use program will be consolidated into a single program with four weighted performance categories on which eligible professionals (EPs) will be assessed for reimbursement: 1) quality; 2) resource use; 3) clinical practice improvement activities; and 4) meaningful use of certified EHR technology. For physicians that select the MIPS track, a methodology will be used to assess the physician’s performance provided for Medicare beneficiaries, and each MIPS eligible physician will receive a composite quality score for each performance period.

The other pathway is one of many Alternative Payment Models (APMs), e.g., Accountable Care Organizations. MACRA provides incentives for providers to participate in certain APMs. From 2019 through 2024, qualifying APM participants will receive a lump sum incentive payment of 5%. Qualifying APM participants will not be subject to MIPS adjustments; however, many components of MIPS, including EHRs, are also requirements of APMs.

At the moment, there is a lot to learn about both MIPS and APMs because many of the rules about MIPS and APMs are yet to be written. The specific benefits and drawbacks will become clear over time, as CMS continues to determine how it will put these two tracks into operation. The ACR is actively engaged with CMS administrators to make sure that the rules and quality measures defining each track are fair, feasible and logical for rheumatologists. To strengthen the collective effort, the ACR has contracted with regulatory lobbyists who have expertise and relationships in this area, complementing the ACR’s lobbying efforts in the legislative arena. Over the coming year, the ACR will be launching an informational campaign that will give members access to up-to-date MACRA information and analysis throughout CMS’s decision-making process.

Navigating the MIPS Pathway

Method of Attribution

For those practitioners considering the MIPS pathway, the method of attribution is important. That is, the process by which patients get assigned to a particular doctor for cost and quality measures. Under MIPS, rheumatologists will be judged as a group based on every doctor who is part of a single Tax Identification Number (TIN). Hence, if a patient with a complex condition sees many different doctors, cost and quality measurements will be aggregated for all doctors in the TIN. Under the APM track, the method of attribution will be by the physician’s National Practitioner Identifier (NPI) in a more precise, individualized manner. The intuition here is: Knowing who is in your TIN will be an important consideration for those considering the MIPS pathway.

Rheumatology Informatics System for Effectiveness (RISE) Registry

RISE plus MIPS equals survival. The Rheumatology Informatics System for Effectiveness (RISE) Registry—a database developed and managed by the ACR and available to and free for all members—will be key to success in the MIPS pathway. The database is a robust tool for quality improvement reporting that pulls data on demographics, medications, lab data, disease activity, functional status and other metrics directly from your practice’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. Importantly, RISE has been designated as a qualified clinical data registry (QCDR) by CMS, meaning that rheumatologists who wish to use RISE for MIPS quality reporting will be able to do so automatically.

Looking Ahead

While we are excited about the role the RISE Registry can play in helping rheumatologists successfully navigate the MIPS track, it is also important to note that MIPS may not end up being the final CMS payment pathway. From what we know about CMS’s current thinking, the agency appears to see MIPS as a temporary solution to ease the transition to the new value-based payment structure. We believe CMS will eventually phase out the MIPS pathway and transition all providers into APMs in the future. Because this could have significant implications for small private practices, the ACR will continue to actively engage with CMS on this issue and provide additional updates as we know more about the agency’s long-term plans for physician reimbursement.

There is no doubt that MACRA alters the reimbursement landscape and presents important, ongoing decisions for practicing rheumatologists. However, I am confident the rheumatology community will adapt and prosper in the face of these changes and that the ACR will be there along the way with up-to-date information and support. Information will be our most important tool in getting ahead of the curve and succeeding in this rapidly changing environment. I encourage all members to grasp the opportunity to get their practice ready for changes coming down the pike, thinking strategically. And I encourage members to consider microvolunteering opportunities, especially in advocacy of these issues, in order to Advance Rheumatology!

Joan M. Von Feldt, MD, MSEd
President, American College of Rheumatology