Why Healthcare Costs Rise Faster Than General Inflation Part 4

By David Toomey and Tom Emerick

 

Over the last few years, the latest buzz in the healthcare industry has been Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), and the next wave will be the promotion of “value-based contracting”. These are similar approaches, different words.

Generally, an ACO is formed around a physician group or a hospital linked to physicians. The basic concept is for the provider system to be accountable for patients, and the providers are financially motivated to impact their patient population’s overall costs. Makes sense, right?

For the past 25 or so years, physicians have been linked to Independent Practice Associations, Medical Groups, and Management Services Organizations. Many of these provider organizations have had financial incentives tied to performance. Data have been available to assess physician performance. So what’s different now?

Today the Feds are re-emphasizing performance in their physician contracting under the new Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization (MACRA), which replaces the current reimbursement formula.

Beginning in 2019, the existing incentive programs now used for Medicare physicians will be replaced by a new performance-based model with four components. Those components are 1) quality, 2) resource use, 3) meaningful use of technology, and 4) clinical practice improvement.

Based on the Medicare physicians’ results, the reimbursements can be decreased by as much as 4% (adjusting to 9% by 2022). The program will have upside incentive for achieving exceptional performance up to 12% in 2019.

As the largest purchaser, Medicare is striving to establish per unit cost consistency in every market. Yet Medicare’s 2014 costs vary from $6,631 to $10,610 across markets. Why? Even if the cost per unit of service is standardized, extremely wide variation exists in how patients are treated for given conditions. When wide variation in care plans exists, some are right and some are wrong, as regular readers of Cracking Health Costs know. Some are better and some are worse. Period.

It’ll be interesting to see if the four new performance measures under MACRA will have a better impact than what’s in place today.

Self-insured employers don’t need to wait four or five years to see the results. They can leverage their purchasing scale with the providers to drive out both inappropriate care and unit price variations. The time to start is now.

 

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