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MACRA shift continues with IRIS registry, flexible reimbursements


Thanks to factors such as advocacy, the IRIS registry, and allowing physicians to choose between two reimbursement plans, penalties have been reduced in the shift from volume-to-value based payments.

Reviewed by Jessica Peterson, MD, MPH

About a decade ago, Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began to nudge physicians toward a payment model that rates value over volume-but in the process often seems to shift emphasis from patient care to burdensome reporting requirements.

The most recent significant change along the road from value to volume came in the form of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), which repealed the sustainable growth rate formula-widely considered to be flawed-and is moving the medical profession further into the new payment approach, said Jessica Peterson, MD, MPH, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) manager of quality and HIT policy, Health Policy Department, Washington, DC.

Trending up

Tracing the history of this paradigm shift in Medicare payments, Dr. Peterson cited findings from the 2017 Medicare Trustees Report projecting that the Supplementary Medical Insurance Fund, from which physician services are paid, will grow from 3.6% of gross domestic product today to 5.6% in 2040, while the Hospital Insurance Fund will be insolvent by 2029.

“There has been this feeling of urgency by policymakers, in CMS, in Health and Human Services, that we really need to do something before we don’t have any money to take care of our elderly,” Dr. Peterson said.

The traditional fee-for-service reimbursement model ran into trouble with Congress and CMS over the perception that it had built-in incentives for physicians to focus on volume of services and thus was unsustainable, Dr. Peterson said.

This conclusion set in motion the effort to both lower healthcare costs and improve patient outcomes through value-based care programs.

Medicine, including the AAO, worked with CMS over the past decade to make sure the design and implementation of new quality and value-based models happened in “baby steps,” Dr. Peterson said.

Their efforts succeeded in making the physician quality reporting system (PQRS) launched in 2007 voluntary at first before it switched to mandatory reporting with a bonus/penalty system in 2012.

The next big step on the path to a value-based payment model was linking quality to value. A provision in the Affordable Care Act mandated a value-based payment modifier applicable to Medicare fee for service payments starting in 2015; this was phased in by practice size and applied to all physicians effective in 2017. On the positive size, advocacy by the academy and other medical organizations resulted in lowering of the 2018 penalties from a proposed maximum of 4% to a reduced 2% penalty (1% for small practices), Dr. Peterson said.

IRIS Registry

Advocacy also played a part in a provision of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 allowing submission of data to a qualified clinical data registry to meet the requirement for providing data on quality measures. The AAO’s Intelligent Research in Sight (IRIS) Registry, launched in 2013, is a means for ophthalmologists to comply with this regulation. The registry is free to academy members.

“It’s an easy way to see if you’re doing well,” Dr. Peterson said.

“It helps you see real-time dynamic data on your patients, and it helps you report or attest to all of the program categories,” she added.

The registry has saved participants more than $185 million in estimated penalties avoided since 2014. The penalty in 2019 (based on 2017 data) will be 4%, an estimated $18,600 for the average ophthalmologist.

The current payment system under MACRA gives physicians a choice of two new reimbursement plans: MIPS (Merit-based Incentive Payment System) and A-APMs (Advanced Alternate Payment Models).

Most ophthalmology practices fit best into MIPS, the fee-for-service arm of MACRA, in which payment adjustment is tied to performance in four categories: quality, advancing care information (ACI), improvement activities (IA), and cost. Each category is weighted as part of the total score; in the 2018 performance year, quality is weighted at 50%; ACI 25%, IA 15%, and cost 10%. In 2019, the weight for quality was scheduled to decrease to 30% and cost was to rise to 30%; IA and ACI will remain stable.

However, recently enacted language in the budget bill now gives flexibility to the Secretary of HHS in re-weighting the cost and quality portions, and CMS will announce its decision by early summer.

Jessica Peterson, MD, MPH
e: jpeterson@aao.org 
This article was adapted from Dr. Peterson’s presentation at the 2017 meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Peterson did not report any relevant financial or commercial relationships.

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