Some hospitalist groups can expect a bump in total revenue over the next two years, thanks to the Medicaid-to-Medicare parity regulation that was included in the Affordable Care Act. But whether the increase in reimbursement lasts beyond 2014 is anyone’s guess.
The regulation, which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released in November and made effective Jan. 1, increases Medicaid payments for certain primary-care services to 100% of Medicare levels this year and next. States will receive an estimated $11 billion over the next two years to fund the program, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Eligible providers include physicians, physician assistants (PAs), and nurse practitioners (NPs), who self-attest they are board-certified in family, pediatric, or general internal medicine; it also includes those doctors, PAs, or NPs who self-attest that at least 60% of all Medicaid services they bill or provide in a managed-care environment are for specific evaluation and management (E&M) and vaccine administration codes.1
The concept is to boost Medicaid participation by improving historically lagging reimbursement rates.2 To wit, CMS’ Office of the Actuary estimates the parity rule will add more than 10,000 new primary-care physicians (PCPs) to the Medicaid participation ranks.3
SHM Public Policy Committee member Brad Flansbaum, DO, MPH, SFHM, says that hospitalists who deal with Medicaid populations can expect at least some increase in their revenue over the next two years. For example, he says, take an HM group earning $100,000 a year in Medicaid revenue. Now consider Urban Institute figures that show, in 2012, Medicaid physician fees on average were 66% of Medicare physician fees (with wide state variations). The parity rule now pays that hypothetical HM group about $150,000.
“It’s simple math,” Dr. Flansbaum says. “I would emphasize that the bump in pay is going to be proportional to the percentage of Medicaid patients that you see. There are some doctors who see an awful lot of Medicaid patients in safety-net and public hospitals, and that money, when it comes back to departments and divisions, can be used for things that a lot of these places never had the means to do before. It could be salary, but it could also mean hiring more people, more resources. It makes a difference.”
Public Policy Committee chair Ron Greeno, MD, FCCP, MHM, says SHM advocated for the parity regulation, as Medicaid has historically paid for only about 70% of the healthcare delivered to patients. Although the parity issue has not gathered as much attention as other facets of the healthcare reform movement, having CMS recognize that delivery of primary care is not restricted to traditional offices is one he and SHM are particularly proud of.
“This is a correction long in coming,” Dr. Greeno says. “We’re happy hospitalists were included in the group of people that will achieve that parity.”
Dr. Flansbaum, director of hospitalist services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says few physicians are even aware of the provision, in part because of a widespread frustration with Medicaid’s historic reimbursements rates.
“It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Medicaid never pays, reimbursement always goes down, and the interactions with Medicaid are always increasingly difficult,” Dr. Flansbaum adds.
The question for physicians and policy wonks now is what happens to the parity regulation after its scheduled expiration Dec. 31, 2014. Several medical societies, including SHM and the American College of Physicians (ACP), lobbied Congress to make sure the parity regulation was not impacted by the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The next step is to craft a permanent funding source to pay for it.
“Unless Congress acts to permanently extend and fund this provision, a sudden return to disparate and inadequate payment for primary services needed by Medicaid patients after only two years will again threaten to restrict their access to such needed services,” AAFP said in a statement after the rule was implemented. “It would once again shut out people who have come to know and depend on their primary care physicians. Only by extending Medicaid parity with Medicare can we ensure that these Americans continue to have uninterrupted medical care in the future.”
—Brad Flansbaum, DO, MPH, SFHM, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, SHM Public Policy Committee member
SHM recommended that CMS work with the states to facilitate timely data collection designed to determine the effects on the quality and efficiency of care being received under Medicaid as a result of the enhanced fees. CMS agreed with this recommendation and the resulting data, hopefully, will make the case for continuing the enhanced payment following 2014.
Dr. Flansbaum says SHM’s policy team will continue to work on the issue, but given the precarious state of federal budgets and political dysfunction in Washington, it’s too early to know whether a funding source will be identified to pay for parity in 2015 and beyond—especially as politicians have yet to craft long-term solutions to issues including the sustainable-growth rate formula and other specialists, including radiologists and obstetricians, lobby to be eligible for the parity pay. However, he is hopeful that physicians who see the added impact of parity pay in the next two years will lobby Congress to find a way to continue the higher reimbursement.
“I can’t tell you whether or not when you put on the scale of all the priorities whether it’s going to be a new Air Force bomber, another $50 billion into Medicare for physicians, or an educational system upgrade,” he says. “I don’t know where the government is going to assign its priorities. Will the money be there to extend both the two-year Medicaid and the reprieve? And if the answer is yes, will it be extended to other providers beyond just primary-care practitioners? It’s anyone’s guess.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.
- FAQ: Medicaid/Medicare Parity Regulation. Society of Hospital Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hospitalmedicine.org/AM/Images/Advocacy_Image/pdf/Parity_FAQ_Final.pdf. Accessed Jan. 27, 2013.
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicaid program; payments for services furnished by certain primary care physicians and charges for vaccine administration under the Vaccines for Children program. Federal Register website. Available at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-11-06/pdf/2012-26507.pdf. Accessed Jan. 15, 2013.
- Bindman A. JAMA Forum: Warning: Dangerous physician payment cliffs ahead. Journal of the American Medical Association website. Available at: http://newsatjama.jama.com/2013/01/10/jama-forum-warning-dangerous-physician-payment-cliffs-ahead/.Accessed Jan. 15, 2013.