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CMS Proposes Reintroduction of Pre-Payment Review for Home Health (with a twist)

In a memo set for release today, CMS is proposing to reintroduce pre-payment review (with a twist) for Home Health claims.  The memo version is here: HHA Pre Payment Recall, CMS first introduced pre-payment review in August 2016, starting in Illinois.  The process required agencies to submit claim-related data BEFORE receiving final payment or face an adjustment in their payment of minus 25%.  This reduction could not be appealed. Providers could resubmit additional data to achieve full affirmation of their claim PRIOR to submitting final billing for the claim.  After a certain threshold of claims was reviewed and determined proper, the pre-payment process would sunset for the agency.

The initial trial that began in Illinois was such a debacle for agencies and the industry due to the time delays and criterion laxity, slowing cash flow and increasing administrative burden that Congress finally stepped in and put the program on hiatus.  The Illinois experiment was so initially bad that further expansion to other states (Florida was next), never occurred.

In this new proposal which will open for comment (60 days) after publication in the Federal Register, CMS is keeping the program design constant with a couple of twists.

  1. Providers/Agencies in the demonstration states of Illinois, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas will be able to choose whether to submit data to the MAC (Medicare Administrative Contractor) for review on a pre-claim or post-claim/payment basis.
  2. Providers/Agencies may opt-out of the payment review (pre or post) by accepting payments at a discounted rate – minus 25%.

As with the former program, providers/agencies will need to meet an acceptable level of affirmed claim submissions (pre or post) to move to an episodic review standard.  In effect, after the agency has been subject to sufficient claim reviews and found to be compliant with required documentation and billing standards, the agency transitions to an “every so often” sampling of claims.  As before, providers that fail to submit data or elect pre or post payment reviews will see claim payments automatically discounted by 25%.

The rationale from CMS to return to this review process is the same as before; assurance of claim accuracy and fraud reduction.  CMS continues to believe that HHAs are sloppy and negligent enough in their claims process that improper payments are too high (as a percent of all claims) and or fraud, still prevalent enough to warrant a program of systematic review. Of course, as of now, CMS can offer no assurance that the next incarnation of claim reviews will go smoother than the 2016 experience.  The belief is that lessons were learned and steps put in-place by the MAC to smooth out reviews and not harm agency financial status or create undue additional burden.  Frankly, I hold no such expectation or belief that the process will be markedly better.

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May 31, 2018 Posted by | Home Health | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Home Health and Hospice: Strategic Movement in an Evolving Market

Last year 2017, was a bit of a “downer” in terms of mergers/acquisitions in the home health and hospice industry.  Though 2017 was fluid for hospital and health system activity, the home health and hospice sectors lagged a bit.  Some of the lag was due to capacity concerns in so much that health system mergers, if they involve home health as part of the “roll-up”, take a bit of sorting out time to adjust to market capacity changes (in markets impacted by the consolidations).  The additional drag was attributable to CMS proposing to change the home health payment from a per visit function to a process driven by patient characteristics – after implementation, a net $950 million revenue cut to the industry.  CMS has since scrapped this proposed payment revision however, the future foreshadows payment revisions nonetheless including changing to some format of a shorter episode window for payment (ala 30 days).

Hospice has always been a bit of niche in terms of the post-acute industry.  Where consolidation and merger/acquisition activity occurs, it is most often fueled by a companion home health transaction.  De Novo hospice “only” activity of any scale has been steady and unremarkable, save regional and local movement.  From a reimbursement and policy implication standpoint, hospice has been far less volatile than home health.  Minor changes in terms of scaling payment levels by length of stay have only marginally impacted the revenue profile of the industry.  What continues to impact hospice patient flow is the medical/health care culture within the U.S. that continues to be in steep denial regarding the role of palliative medicine/care and end-of-life care, particularly for advanced age seniors.  Sadly, too many seniors still pass daily in expensive, inpatient settings such as hospitals and nursing homes (hospitals more so), racking up bills for (basically) futile healthcare services.  If and when this culture shifts, hospice will see expansion in the form of referrals and post-acute market share.

Despite somewhat (of) a tepid M&A climate in 2017, the tail-end of the year and early 2018 provided some fireworks.  Early 2018 is off to the races with some fairly large-scale consolidations.  In late 2017, LHC group and Almost Family announced their merger, recently completed.  Preceding this transaction in August, Christus Health in Texas formed a joint venture with LHC, encompassing its home health and hospice business (LTAcH too).  Tenet sold its home health business to Amedysis (though not a major transaction by any means).  And, Humana stepped forward to acquire Kindred’s Home Health business.

In the first months of 2018, Jordan, a regional home health and hospice business in Texas,  Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas, announced a merger with fellow regional providers Great Lakes and National Home Health Care.  The combined company will span 15 states with over 200 locations.  In other regions, The Ensign Group, primarily a nursing home and assisted living provider continues to expand into home health and hospice via acquisitions; primarily underperforming outlets that have market depth and need restructuring.  Former home health giant Amedysis continues to redefine its role in the industry via additions of agencies/outlets in states like Kentucky.  Amedysis, once the largest home health provider in the nation, fell prey to congressional inquiries and regulatory oversight regarding suspected over-payments and billing improprieties.  Having worked through these issues and shrinking its agency/outlet platform to a leaner, more core and manageable level, Amedysis is now growing again, though less for “bigger” sake, more for strategy sake.

Given the preceding news, some trends are emerging for home health in particular and a bit (quite a bit) less so for hospice.  Interestingly, one of the trends apparent for home health has been present for hospitals, health systems, and now starting, skilled nursing: there is too much capacity, somewhat misaligned with where the market needs exist.  I believe this issue also exists for Seniors Housing (see related post at https://wp.me/ptUlY-nA ) but the drivers are different as limited regulation and payment dynamics are at play for Seniors Housing.  While home health is no doubt, an industry with continued growth potential as more post-acute payment and policy drivers favor home care and outpatient over institutional options, capacity problems still exist.  By capacity I mean too many providers wrongly positioned within certain markets and not enough providers properly positioned to deliver more integrated elements of acute and post-acute, transitional services in expanding markets (e.g., Washington D.C., Denver, Dallas, etc.).

Prior to their final consolidation with Humana, Kindred provided an investor presentation explaining their rationale for exiting the home health business (somewhat analogous to their exit rationale from skilled nursing).  The salient pages are available at this link: Kindred Investor Pres 2 18 . Fundamentally, I think the underpinnings of the argument beginning with the public policy and reimbursement dynamics which are extrapolated against a “worse-case” backdrop (MedPac recommendations don’t equate to Congressional action directly nor do tax cuts equate directly to Medicare reimbursement cuts) get lost to the real reason Kindred exited: excess leverage.  Kindred was overly leveraged and as we have seen with all too many like/analogous scenarios, excessive overhead and fixed costs in a tight and competitive market with sticky reimbursement dynamics and risk concentration on Medicare beget few strategic options other than shrink or exit.

With the backdrop set, the home health environment is at an evolutionary pass – the fork-in-the-road applies for many providers: bigger in scale or focused regionally with more network alignment required (aka strategic partnerships).  I think the following is safe to conclude, at least for this first half of 2018.

  • The M&A driver today is strategy and market, less financial.  While financial concerns remain due to some funky (technical term) policy dynamics and reimbursement unknowns, the same are more tame than 12-18 months ago.  To be certain, financial gain expectations are part of every transaction, just less impactful in terms of motivation.
  • The dominant strategic driver is network alignment: being where the referrals are.  The next driver is “positioning” as a player managing population health dynamics.  Disease management focus is key here.
  • Medicare Advantage penetration is re-balancing patient flow in many markets.  As the penetration escalates above 50% (half or better of all Med A days coming from Med Advantage), the referral flows are shaping to more demand for in-home care (away from institutional settings), shorter lengths of stay across all post-acute segments, increasing complexity and acuity on transition, and pay-for-performance dynamics on outcomes (particularly, re-hospitalization).
  • Market locations are key and very, very strategic.  With home health, being able to channel productivity, especially in a low labor supply/high demand environment, is imperative.  Being proximal to referrals, being tight with geographic boundaries, being able to lever staff resources, and being able to deploy technology to enhance efficiency is operationally, imperative.
  • Partnerships are synergistic today and in-flux.  It used to be that a key partner was an acute hospital.  Today, the acute hospital remains important but not necessarily, primary.  With physicians starting to embrace ACOs and Bundled Payment models, the referral relationship most preferred may be direct agency to doctor.  In fact, the hospital partner may not be anywhere near as valuable as the surgical center partner, owned and controlled by physicians.
  • Capacity and capability to bear risk from a population management perspective and to accept patients with higher acuity needs (in-home) and broader chronic conditions.  Effectively, home health agencies are going to continue to feel pressure to take patients with multiple chronic needs and comorbidities and to coordinate these care needs across perhaps, two to three provider spectrums (outpatient, specialty physicians, hospice if required, etc.).

 

May 23, 2018 Posted by | Home Health, Hospice | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CMS Proposes New SNF Payment Model

Last Friday, CMS released the contents of its annual proposed rule updating the SNF PPS plus (as always), fine tuning certain related programmatic elements. Final Federal Register Publication is set for May 8.  (Anyone wishing the PDF version may download it from the Reports and Other Documents page on this site or access it here SNF Proposed Rule 4 2018 ).  The most watched information for providers is the proposed rate adjustment though lately, for the post-acute segments of health care, other elements pertaining to payment model changes have eclipsed rate “watching”.

Last year’s proposed rule for the SNF PPS contained the release of RCS-1.  After extensive commentary, CMS pulled back RCS-1, shelving it for some conceptual remake.  We now, as of Friday, know the remake – PDPM for short (Patient Driven Payment Model). As with all yearly releases similar, a comment period has begun, lasting until (if not otherwise extended) the last week of June (June 26).

PDPM as proposed, is designed to replace the current SNF payment methodology known as RUGs IV.  Unless date changes, etc. are made by CMS post commentary review, the effective date of the change (from RUGs to PDPM) is 10/1/19 (next October).   PDPM as an outgrowth of RCS-1 and received commentary, is a simplified payment model designed to be more holistic in patient assessment, capture more clinical complexity, eliminate or greatly reduce the therapy focus by eliminating the minute levels for categorization, and simplifying via reduction, the assessment process and schedule (reduced to three possible assessments/MDS tasks). Below is a summary of PDPM core attributes/features as proposed.  On this site in the Reports and Other Documents page is the PDPM Calculation Worksheet that provides additional details beyond the reference points below PDPM Calculation for SNFs.

  • PDPM uses five, case-mix adjusted components for classification and thus, payment: PT, OT, Speech, Non-Therapy Ancillary and Nursing.
  • For each of these components, there are separate groups which a resident may be assigned, based on MDS data.  For example, there are 16 PT groups, 16 OT groups, 12 Speech groups, 6 Non-Therapy Ancillary groups and 25 Nursing groups.
  • Each resident, by assessment, is classified into one of the group elements within the component categories. This means that every resident falls into a group within the five case-mix components of PT. OT, Speech, Non-Therapy Ancillary and Nursing.
  • Each separate case-mix component has its own case-mix adjusted indexes and corresponding per diem rates.
  • Three of the components, PT, OT and Non-Therapy Ancillary have variable per diem features that allow for changes in rates due to changing patient needs during the course of the stay.
  • The full per diem rate is calculated by adding the PT, OT, and Non-Therapy Ancillary rates (variable) to the non-adjusting or non-variable Nursing and Speech components.
  • Therapy utilization may include group and/or concurrent treatment sessions provided no more than 25% of the total therapy utilization (by minutes) is classified as group or concurrent.
  • PT, OT, and Speech classification by group within their respective components do not include any function of “time”.  The sole denominator of how much/little therapy a resident receives is the necessity determined by the assessment process and by the clinical judgment of the care team.  In this regard, the minimum and maximum levels are based on resident need not on a predetermined category (RUG level).
  • Diagnoses codes from the hospital on admission (via ICD-10) are important and accuracy on the initial MDS (admission) are imperative.
  • Functional measures for Therapy (PT, OT) are derived from Section GG vs. Section G as provided via RCS-1.
  • The Non-Therapy Ancillary component allows facilities to capture additional acuity elements and thus payment, for additional existing comorbidities (e.g., pressure ulcers, COPD, morbid obesity, etc. ) plus a modifier for Parenteral/IV feeding.
  • There are only three Medicare/payment assessments (MDS) required or predicated starting in October of 2019 – admission, change of condition/payment adjustment and discharge. NOTE: All other required MDS submissions for other purposes such as QRP, VBP, Quarterly, etc. remain unchanged.

For SNFs, the takeaways are pretty straight-forward. First, clinical complexity appears to be the focus of increased payment opportunity.  Second, therapies are going to change and fairly dramatic as utilization does not involved minutes and more is better, when clinically appropriate but less is always relevant (if that makes sense).  The paperwork via MDS submissions is definitely less but assessment performance in terms of accuracy and clinical judgment is increased.   MDS Coordinators, those that are exceptional clinicians and can educate and drive a team of clinicians, will be prized as never before.  RUG style categorization is over so the focus is not on maximizing certain types of care and thus payment but on being clinically savvy, delivering high quality and being efficient.  The latter is what I have been preaching now for years.  Those SNFs that have been trending in this direction, caring for clinically complex patients, not shunning the use and embrace of nursing RUGs, and being on the ball in terms of their assessments and QMs are likely to see some real benefits via the PDPM system.

More on this new payment model and strategies to move forward will be in upcoming posts.

May 1, 2018 Posted by | Policy and Politics - Federal, Skilled Nursing, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment