Most of the post-election discussion of the ACA has focused on how promises to repeal the law could impact the newly insured. But one priority area of the ACA that has received very little discussion is the federal government’s strategy to try to reign in health care costs by reducing volume and promoting quality. Complicating the push to fully repeal the ACA is the fact that key elements of the ACA’s cost control strategy have found their way into the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) passed by Congress in 2015.
MACRA was passed on a bipartisan, bicameral basis, creating a two-track system for Medicare provider reimbursement incentive payments. On one track is the more traditional fee-for-service reimbursement structure that will be subject to payment adjustments under a consolidated quality reporting system called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The second track, which entails greater incentive payments, addresses reimbursement for providers participating in alternative payment models (APMs) like accountable care organizations (ACOs) and other demonstration programs that have been created under CMS’s Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). We discussed these changes at length in our post last month.
While the sweeping Republican election victory portends extensive changes in many areas of health care, MACRA is not likely to see extensive changes–at least not directly. Moving payment policy away from volume and towards quality was a goal for all the Congressional offices participating in the construction of MACRA. However, the implementation of MACRA could still face challenges if Congressional Republicans decide to repeal or constrain the ACA sections that give CMS the authority to operate the CMMI. Such a move would not be outside the realm of possibility; as we previously discussed, the CMMI has been a frequent target of criticism by Congressional Republicans. A full repeal of the ACA, or even limitations to the CMMI’s authority or budget, could cripple the government’s ability to operate the demonstration projects that are the cornerstones of MACRA.
Stakeholders need to engage with CMS moving forward, albeit a CMS under new management, to ensure that changes to the ACA do not have unintended consequences on MACRA’s implementation. CMS may seek to streamline the numerous payment policies that have been proposed under the current Administration. Alternatively, it is possible that CMS will be active in creating its own versions of alternative payment models. One area of potential focus for further reform might be the so-called ACO Track 2 and 3 under the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), participation in which will now make providers eligible to receive APM incentive payments. Yet CMMI to date has struggled to find the right mix of payment reform, such as requiring two-sided risk, with payment incentives to show significant MSSP savings. In either case, the provider community will be closely watching the developments related to this already complex and daunting transition.