In May, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told us that he planned to use his pen to make significant and hopefully positive changes to the healthcare industry in the United States. Staying true to his word, the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued a proposal that could have a drastic, positive impact on doctor-patient relationships in the U.S.
The proposed rule would update the Medicare fee schedule for physicians and routines sweeping changes for the third year of the payment program implemented by MACRA. CMS higher-ups say they have been attentive to physicians and responded with these rules in order to allow practitioners more time with their patients.
The proposal was announced on July 12th. CMS Administrator Seema Verma stated in a press call, “Today’s proposals deliver on the pledge to put patients over paperwork by enabling doctors to spend more time with their patients. Physicians tell us they continue to struggle with excessive regulatory requirements and unnecessary paperwork that steal time from patient care.”
These proposals, which are part of the Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program, also serve to update Medicare to allow payments for virtual care, which would save money for beneficiaries while allowing them better access to quality treatment regardless of their location. Patients could connect with their care providers remotely, and the practitioners would have the opportunity to determine if the patient needs to come to the office or not. The clinician can be paid under this new proposal for both these “virtual visits” and for time spent evaluating photos or videos sent in electronically by the patient. Medicare coverage of “telehealth” benefits would also be expanded to include preventative services over the long-term.
Additionally, the reform would make broad changes to the reporting requirements in order to effectively put the focus on the most important measures, the ones that have the most impact on health outcomes. The shift in reporting would also encourage electronic information sharing between providers, so patients can be more effectively “followed” through the system by their entire care record.
If the new proposals are adopted and finalized, clinicians should see a boost in their productivity levels, which in turn is likely to lead to a better quality of care for their patients. CMS estimates that upwards of 50 work hours per year would be saved by the paperwork this proposal would eliminate from the workload of a doctor with 40% of their patients covered by Medicare.
This proposal also aims to advance President Trump’s efforts to lower prescription drug costs, by suggesting a change in the payment amounts for new drugs under Part B, so the payment amount is commensurate with the actual drug cost. This could significantly reduce the amount that seniors are asked to pay out of pocket, especially when it comes to newer drugs with high launch prices.
The proposal can be viewed at this link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2018-14985.pdf and HHS is asking for public comments and input to be submitted by September 10th 2018.
Emerald Coast Medical Association works to keep our members informed about changes that impact us as medical practitioners, at the federal as well as the state level. These changes, if they go into effect, will be significant to all of us, and we pledge to help our members understand and implement them. Together, we are stronger, and our shared knowledge improves the lives of all of us as well as our patients.
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