Baucus Plan Lends Clarity to Healthcare Debate


Last week’s release of the “chairman’s mark” of the America’s Healthy Future Act from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opened the latest chapter in the debate over healthcare reform. Beyond the hot-button issues, several Medicare-related proposals could directly impact hospitalists. Here’s a look at four of them, with observations from Eric Siegal, MD, FHM, chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee.

Addition of a hospital value-based purchasing (VBP) program to Medicare beginning in 2012. The program would tie incentive payments to performance on quality measures related to such conditions as heart failure, pneumonia, surgical care, and patient perceptions of care. So far, the program’s rough outlines have been well received. “We fundamentally support hospital value-based purchasing,” Dr. Siegal says. “We think it’s a necessary step in the evolution to higher-value health care in general.”

Expansion of the Physician’s Quality Reporting Initiative, with a 1% payment penalty by 2012 for nonparticipants. The bill also would direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to improve the appeals process and feedback mechanism. Although the Baucus plan’s “mark” doesn’t discuss transitioning to pay-for-performance, Dr. Siegal says the shift likely is inevitable. In the meantime, pay-for-reporting can encourage better outcomes through a public reporting mechanism and “grease the skids” for a pay-for-performance initiative.

Creation of a CMS Payment Innovation Center “authorized to test, evaluate, and expand different payment structures and methodologies,” with a goal of improving quality and reducing Medicare costs. Dr. Siegal says the proposal is consistent with SHM’s aims. “We have for a long time advocated for a robust capability to test new payment models and to figure out what works better than what we have right now,” he says.

Establishment of a three-year Medicare pilot called the Community Care Transitions Program. The program would spend $500 million over 10 years on efforts to reduce preventable rehospitalizations. SHM’s Project BOOST (Better Outcomes for Older Adults through Safe Transitions) likely would qualify. “We’re very positive about that,” Dr. Siegal says. “I think there is a huge amount of scrutiny now on avoidable rehospitalizations. We think BOOST is a step in the right direction, and we’d love to see greater funding to roll this out on a much larger basis.”

For more information on the current healthcare reform debate, visit SHM’s advocacy portal.

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