On January 26, 2015, the Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Sylvia Mathews Burwell, announced two important goals for the Department:

  1. Increase the percentage of Medicare provider payments that are made through alternative payment models based on how well the providers care for patients, rather than the amount of care provided. The percentage goals for these alternative payment models are 30% by 2016 and 50% by 2018.
  2. Tie virtually all Medicare fee-for-service payments (85% in 2016 and 90% in 2018) to quality and value.

This announcement puts hard numbers on the goal to move away from traditional fee-for-service Medicare payments that has been stated generally since at least 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was enacted. By clearly delineating specific figures for alternative payment models, such as accountable care organizations and bundled payment arrangements, from those figures for payment methods, HHS has made it clear that providers should be thinking not just about different forms of payment but different forms of organizations and relationships with other providers. Alternative payment models generally require coordination among different types of providers who may not otherwise be related to each other.

While the announced goals focus on the Medicare fee-for-service system, it is clear that HHS intends the impact of these goals to be far broader. Ms. Burwell also announced the creation of a Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network to facilitate a public-private sector partnership to “continue to build on our work with state Medicaid agencies, private payers, employers, consumers and other partners,” while welcoming the fact that “our partners in the private sector have the opportunity to be even more aggressive” in establishing alternative payment models and pay-for-value compensation systems. On the same day as Ms. Burwell’s announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a fact sheet stating that it is taking action with a goal to spend “our health dollars” more wisely, citing the importance of the goal for patients, families, providers, tax payers, employers, states and insurance companies, and making it clear that HHS and CMS fully intend to have their efforts to transform health care delivery and payment systems to reverberate well beyond the Medicare program.