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Home Health Final Rule: Rate Increases plus PDGM

While I was in Philadelphia speaking at LeadingAge’s annual conference, CMS released its 2019 Home Health Final Rule.  As I wrote in an earlier post regarding the proposed rule, the topic of interest was/is a new payment model – PDGM.  As has been the case across the post-acute industry, CMS is advancing case-mix models crafted around a simplified patient assessment, less therapy oriented more nursing/medically balanced.  The industry lobbied for modification or delay in PDGM, primarily due to some underlying behavioral assumptions CMS embedded in the proposal (more on this in later paragraphs).

The most relevant, immediate impact of the final rule is rate increases (finally) for the industry – 2.2% or $420 million.  The industry has experienced rate cuts and rebasing consistently since 2010 as a response to fast growth and high profit margins exhibited by companies like Amedysis (the center of a Congressional hearing in 2011).

PDGM is slated to take effect “on or after January 1, 2020”.  The ambiguity in this language is worth noting as there are some that believe modification, even delay is possible.  Compared to the proposed rule, the final rule includes 216 more Home Health Resource Groups due to bifurcating Medication Management Teaching and Assessment from previous group alignments. The following key changes are a result of PDGM.

  1. As with PDPM on the SNF side, PDGM removes the therapy weight/influence separately from the assessment and payment element weights for HHAs.  The clinical indications or nursing considerations are given more weight along with patient comorbidities.
  2. Coding becomes a key factor in payment mechanics, particularly diagnoses and co-morbidity.
  3. Functional status is given a higher weight, as is the case today with all post-acute payment model reforms.
  4. Episode lengths are halved – down from 60 days (current) to 30 days.
  5. PDGM is budget neutral meaning that when fully implemented,, the cost to the Federal government for Medicare HHA payments in the aggregate is no greater than current (inflation adjusted for time).  To get to budget neutrality, certain behavioral assumptions about provide reactions to the changes are used.  As one would suspect, this is a subject of concern and debate by the HHA industry.

The behavioral assumption issue referenced in #5 above is an imputed reality in all payment model changes.  In fact, it is an economic model necessity when attempting to address “how” certain changes in reward (payment) will move activity or behavior toward those places where reward or payment is maximized.  It is a key economic behavioral axiom: What get’s rewarded, get’s done.

In effect, CMS is saying that budget neutrality is achieved for a 30 day episode when payments for the episode equal $1,753.68.  Getting to this number, CMS assumed that agencies would react or respond quickly to payment changes (areas where increases are found) in co-morbidity coding, clinical group assignment and reduction in LUPA cases.  However, if CMS models slower reactions or limited reactions by the industry (operating norms as current persist), the payment impact is an increase of 6.42% or $1,873.91.  Because budget neutrality is mandated concurrent with PDGM, the concerns providers are raising relates to how payments will ultimately be determined and when if necessary, will adjustments be made IF the anticipated behavioral changes don’t manifest as factored.  Simply stated, this collective concern(s) is the reason the industry continues to lobby for delay, more analysis and further definitional clarity with the PDGM funding and payment assumptions prior to implementation.

One final note with respect to PDGM dynamics.  Readers of my articles and attendees at lectures, webinars, other presentations have heard me discuss overall post-acute payment simplification and the movement within Medicare reimbursement to site neutrality.  PDGM is an interesting payment model from the standpoint that it parallels in many ways, the PDPM movement for SNFs.  It is diagnosis based, more clinically/nursing driven than the previous system and more holistic in capturing additional patient characteristics (co-morbidities) than before in order to address payment relevance. With assessment simplification and a growing focus on patient functional status at various points across a post-acute global episode (from hospital discharge to care completion), an overall framework is becoming more visible.  Expect continued work from CMS on payment simplification, more calls from MedPac for site neutral payments for post-acute care. The policy discussions are those that reinforce payment that follows the patient, based on patient clinical needs, unattached to any site dynamics or locations, save perhaps a coding modifier when inpatient care is warranted to account for the capital and equipment elements in the cost of care.  When looking globally at the overall health care payment and policy trend that is occurring sector by sector, the future of payment simplification and movement to site neutrality is certain.  One question remains: By when?

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November 6, 2018 - Posted by | Home Health, Policy and Politics - Federal | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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