Senate Must Reject Health Bill Passed by the House
The American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the House by 4 votes on May 4, 2017, has now moved to the Senate for consideration. Early next week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is expected to issue a report on the most recent amended version of ACHA that passed the House, including whether anticipated impacts are even worse than projections on previous versions of the bill. As we have expressed elsewhere, if enacted, AHCA would roll back important consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), dramatically increase the number of uninsured individuals in our country, dramatically increase costs for older adults age 50-64, undermine Medicare’s finances, and drastically gut the Medicaid program, putting millions at risk of diminished coverage and access to care.
So far, it appears the Senate is taking the same secretive approach as the House – crafting a bill behind closed doors, with no public hearings. While the fate of people with pre-existing conditions understandably took the spotlight leading up to passage of AHCA in the House, less attention has been paid to how AHCA would go far beyond the stated goal of some policymakers to “repeal Obamacare” and decimate the Medicaid program by fundamentally restructuring it. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) states, AHCA would end Medicaid as we know it, and “would have a devastating impact on health care for over 70 million people who rely on Medicaid, including over 30 million children and millions of seniors, people with disabilities, pregnant women, and low-income adults.” While some early reports indicate that the Senate might reject some of the House’s attacks on consumer protections, including relating to pre-existing conditions, the threat to Medicaid remains dire.
As the Senate considers health reform, we urge members to consider the impact on the health and welfare of people covered by the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid, and reject the American Health Care Act. The Center for Medicare Advocacy will continue to fight to save Medicaid, Medicare and health care, but we need your support. Make your donation online and help #ProtectOurCare!
CMS Considers New Medicare Reimbursement System for Skilled Nursing Facilities: If Implemented, Would Gut Therapy
Proposed changes to nursing facility payment under consideration by CMS would reduce financial incentives to provide therapy, and would do so with such force – providing higher reimbursement to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) that provide fewer types of therapy to residents over a shorter period of time or no therapy at all – that it would actually encourage facilities not to provide therapy. Further, the Jimmo v. Sebelius mandate to cover maintenance therapy would be completely ignored.
Ever since the new prospective payment system for Medicare coverage of skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) was first implemented in 1998, the system has faced ongoing criticism. Critics, including the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Inspector General, report that the reimbursement system encourages over-utilization of therapy services, insufficient payment for nursing services, and inaccurate payment for non-therapy ancillary services (chiefly prescription drugs). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracted with Acumen to develop a new reimbursement system to replace the current system. Four Technical Expert Panels considered draft recommendations. In an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), CMS solicits comments on “options we may consider” for revising the reimbursement system, based on Acumen’s work. CMS sets out a proposed framework for a new Medicare payment system for SNFs, called Resident Classification System, Version I (RCS-I).
CMS describes three goals for the new reimbursement system: (1) more accurately compensating SNFs; (2) reducing incentives for SNFs to deliver therapy based on financial considerations, rather than resident need; and (3) maintaining simplicity, to the extent possible.
As described in detail in the ANPRM (and illustrated in the chart below), RCS-I dramatically changes the financial incentives for SNFs.Under RCS-I, SNFs would receive higher reimbursement if they provided 15 or fewer days of Medicare coverage and only one form of therapy (not three). Medicare reimbursement would also be higher if 50-75% of a SNF’s Medicare days were billed as non-rehabilitation. In contrast, Medicare reimbursement would be lower for SNFs providing care to the oldest residents (age 90+), to residents receiving three types of therapy, or to residents having 31 or more days of care paid by Medicare.
Comments on the ANPRM are due June 26, 2017. If CMS goes forward with replacing the Medicare SNF reimbursement system with a new system, it will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking a year from now.
Current Medicare Reimbursement System for SNFs
The current system, called Resource Utilization Groups (RUGs), uses a case-mix component and a non case-mix component (which reflects room and board and various capital costs). The case-mix component uses resident assessment information to determine a resident’s classification for payment purposes. RUG-IV has two case-mix categories – nursing (which includes non-therapy ancillary services) and therapy (which includes physical, occupational, and speech therapy). A resident’s RUG classification is based on the higher of the two case-mix categories. Payment for residents in therapy groups reflects the amount of therapy that a SNF reports providing. There are now 66 RUG-IV classifications based on resident assessment information. At this time, more than 90% of residents are assigned to a rehabilitation-based RUG.
Resident Classification System, Version 1
Instead of the RUGs’ two components (nursing and therapy) for case-mix adjustment, RCS-I creates four distinct case-mix categories – physical/occupational therapy, speech language pathology, nursing, and non-therapy ancillaries – with separate case mix adjustments for each.
Number of case-mix categories
Physical therapy/occupational therapy
*Clinical reasons for hospital stay (5 categories)
* Functional status (3 ADLs: transfers, eating, toileting)
* Presence of cognitive impairment
30 case-mix groups
Speech language pathology
*Clinical reasons for hospital stay
*Presence of swallowing disorder or mechanically altered diet
*Presence of SLP-related co-morbidity or cognitive impairment
18 case-mix groups
Nursing case mix
CMS is considering using the non-rehabilitation RUG for the nursing component, which is based on the staff-time motion study called Staff Time and Resource Intensity Verification (STRIVE) that was used to develop the nursing case-mix categories for RUG-IV
43 case-mix groups
Non therapy ancillaries (NTA)
*Use of extensive services
6 case-mix groups
For speech language pathology and NTA, CMS calculates how much of the variation in current per day costs are predicted by the case-mix adjustments that it proposes. For speech language pathology, the 18 case-mix groups account for only 14.5% of the variation in per day costs; for NTA, only 11.7%.
Two additional factors affect daily reimbursement rates. First, based on Acumen’s finding that physical therapy/occupational therapy costs are generally higher and non-therapy ancillary costs are very high at the beginning of a resident’s stay, RCS-I “front loads” payments – that is, it pays higher rates at the beginning of a resident’s stay, rather than a consistent rate for each day in the assessment period. The proposed system then adjusts rates downward on successive days, under what CMS calls the variable per diem adjustment schedule. Thus, on day 24 of a resident’s Part A stay, for example, the daily rate has a 0.96 adjustment factor, which means that the SNF is paid 96% of the Medicare rate for that person. For a resident in a Medicare-covered stay on days 99 and 100, the adjustment factor is 0.71 – i.e., 71% of the daily rate that was assessed at the beginning of the resident’s Medicare-covered stay.
Second, CMS is considering eliminating the multiple assessments that are currently required for Medicare reimbursement – days 5, 14, 30, 60, and 90 – and using only the 5-day assessment and the “significant change” assessment that is otherwise required for all residents, regardless of payment source. This change means that, in the absence of a resident’s significant change, the reimbursement rate remains constant and does not reflect changes in the resident’s actual needs. Downward adjustments in payment during the course of a resident’s stay reflect the variable per diem adjustment schedule, not the resident’s assessed condition.
Calculating a Daily Rate
To calculate the per day rate for a particular resident, RCS-I begins with unadjusted per diem rate for urban and rural facilities.
RCS-1 Unadjusted Federal Rate Per Diem-Urban and Rural
Urban Per Diem Amount
Rural Per Diem Amount
The unadjusted federal per diem rates (urban or rural) are adjusted twice: first, to reflect the four case-mix categories (nursing, non-therapy ancillary services, physical and occupational therapy, and speech language pathology), and second, to account for declining payments under the variable per diem adjusted schedule. These case-mix adjusted rates, as reduced by the adjustment schedule, are added to the non case-mix component to create a single, declining per day rate for each resident.
Winners and Losers Under RCS-I
The ANPRM includes two Tables identifying the impact of RCS-I on reimbursement rates for individual residents and for facilities. Some key changes are highlighted.
SNFs with 25-100% of their stays utilizing 100 days
% of SNF stays with Medicare/Medicaid dual enrollment
SNFs with 50-75% of their stays with dual eligible residents
SNFs with 0-10% of their stays with dual eligible residents
% of SNF utilization days billed as rehabilitation ultra high (RU)
SNFs with 1-10% of the utilization days billed as RU
SNFs with 90-100% of the utilization days billed as RU
% of SNF utilization days billed as non-rehabilitation
SNFs with 50-75% of the utilization days billed as non-rehabilitation
SNFs with 0-10% of the utilization days billed as non-rehabilitation
Center for Medicare Advocacy Concerns
As demonstrated by the charts above, the proposed revision to Medicare reimbursement for SNFs dramatically alters the Medicare benefit, encouraging less therapy and shorter Medicare-covered stays, while not necessarily improving nurse staffing levels.
During the meetings and in a follow-up letter and conference call with CMS, TEP members expressed concern with Acumen’s charge, which was, apparently, to identify new payment policies and approaches that would be able to more accurately reflect residents’ current use of nursing, therapy, and non-therapy ancillary services. Whether current use is consistent with requirements of federal law was not within Acumen’s scope of work.
Center attorney Toby S. Edelman, a member of all four TEPs, repeatedly raised the issue of provision of, and payment for, maintenance therapy, as required by Jimmo. Acumen responded that the models were based on existing data. With data documenting the cost of maintenance therapy unavailable and possibly non-existent at this time, maintenance therapy is not reflected in the proposed reimbursement system. Acumen suggested that when data become available, Jimmo costs may be added to later revisions of the reimbursement system. The Center questions how data will become available if Jimmo-mandated maintenance nursing and maintenance therapy are not covered by the reimbursement system.
In an August 2016 letter to CMS, Edelman expressed additional concerns about the proposed revisions to the Medicare reimbursement system that the TEPs had been reviewing. She wrote that she had thought that the purposes of revising the SNF reimbursement system were to (1) respond to and correct problems that have been identified for many years in the RUGs system; (2) incorporate new understandings of the care and services that are currently coverable under Medicare (for example, Jimmo's recognition of maintenance therapy and nursing); (3) recognize and implement the statutory directive to pay for care and services that SNFs are required to provide (and therefore, to reflect the revised Requirements of Participations for SNFs, when they were published, which happened in October 2016); and (4) recognize the changes in delivery system reforms and ongoing payment changes, such as bundling demonstrations, that affect reimbursement policies going forward.
Does RCS-I meet CMS’s stated goals?
The short answer is no.
First, RCS-I does not appear to more accurately pay SNFs for providing care to residents who are in a Medicare Part A-covered stay. It rearranges payments, but does not necessarily compensate SNFs appropriately for providing the care and services they are required to provide under the federal Nursing Home Reform Law. The revised Requirements of Participation are not reflected in the proposal. The proposed case-mix adjustments for speech language pathology and NTA have minimal correlation with current facility costs.
Second, while RCS-I does reduce financial incentives to provide therapy, it does so with such force – providing higher reimbursement to SNFs that provide fewer types of therapy to residents over a shorter period of time or no therapy at all – that it actually encourages facilities not to provide therapy. Jimmo’s mandate to cover maintenance therapy is completely ignored.
Finally, RCS-I does not maintain simplicity. It is a highly complex system.
Submitting Comments Comments must be submitted by June 26. When commenting, refer to file code CMS-1686-ANPRM. Comments may be submitted electronically, at http://ww.regulations.gov, by regular mail, by express or overnight mail, or by hand or courier.
Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act Introduced
Legislation would make the Steve Gleason Act of 2015, which increased access to speech generating devices for people with degenerative diseases, permanent.
On May 16, 2017, Representatives John Larson (D-CT), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act, which builds upon the successes of the Steve Gleason Act of 2015. The Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act permanently fixes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) policy that limited access to speech generation devices for people with degenerative diseases.
The Center for Medicare Advocacy was one of the organizations that worked closely with Team Gleason on the 2015 law. The Center applauds the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act, which will provide peace of mind for extremely vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries and ensure they will never again lose their only means of communication if they need to leave home to live in a nursing facility, hospice or hospital.
Oral Health Update – "The Painful Truth About Teeth" (Washington Post)
A recent Washington Post article, “The Painful Truth About Teeth: You Can Work Full Time But not have the Money to Fix Your Teeth – Visible Reminders of the Divide Between Rich and Poor” outlines the devastating impacts of the lack of adequate oral health care in the country.