How many times have you heard the expression, “It would take an act of Congress.”? Well, Congress has acted! Had this blog been posted just 2 weeks ago, the message would have been slightly different and a little more ominous in tone. I would have said—and you may have read articles elsewhere where I did—that the MIPS transition period is coming to an end, and providers should begin to prepare in earnest for 2019, when by law, the MIPS threshold would be much higher and the cost category would account for 30% of the MIPS score. These provisions in MACRA were not subject to CMS’ discretion; but apparently, Congress has been persuaded to extend CMS increased flexibility. As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Congress has pushed out the full implementation of MIPS from 2019 to 2022, effectively making 2019, 2020, and 2021 three additional transition years.
This means that:
- There will still be winners and losers since budget neutrality remains a requirement; however, CMS is now not obligated to set the MIPS threshold at the mean (or median) of prior performance until 2022. Instead, the threshold will be gradually increased to that level over the intervening years, the good news being that it will not be as challenging to avoid a downward adjustment for a few more years. The consequence of this, however, is that the amount of money available to winners will continue to be less than the maximum provided for in the law, (i.e., 5% related to the 2018 performance year, 7% for 2019, and 9% from then on.)
- The Cost category does not jump to 30% of the MIPS score in 2019. CMS can hold off on the increase until as late as 2022, with the flexibility to set the rate at between 10% and 30% each year until then and to make it 30% only when the Secretary is confident that the resource use, (i.e., cost), measures are ready for adoption. In addition, the bonus points for year-over-year improvement in this category have been eliminated.
Through these changes, Congress has relieved some of the immediate pressure for providers. However, this does not change the fact that it will become progressively harder to score well as providers gain experience, making MIPS increasingly competitive in the coming years:
- The Quality and Cost categories will remain distinguishing factors among providers.
- It will become progressively harder to score well in the Quality category. Benchmarks will be more aggressive as providers build experience. The 2018 benchmarks have been posted on the QPP website, and you can already see differences from the 2017 deciles for some measures.
- Improving your comparative Cost position is not something you can do overnight; it takes time. So, it’s not too early to address this area more vigorously.
- MIPS performance has implications beyond Medicare payment adjustments. Your reputation could be impacted as CMS makes more and more performance data publicly available on its Physician Compare website. Consider what you want patients, referring physicians, and payers to see about you when they are researching your practice.
So, don’t let down your guard. Take advantage of the additional transition years to secure your future success.