By Brian Flower, vice president of client solutions, Vatica Health
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released on January 30 the long-awaited final rule on Risk Adjustment Data Validation (RADV). The rule includes two significant modifications to the RADV audit methodology used by CMS to address overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans based on the submission of unsupported risk-adjusting diagnosis codes. First, the final rule authorizes CMS to extrapolate RADV audit findings beginning with payment year 2018 (not 2011-2017 as originally proposed) but did not elaborate on the extrapolation methodology. Second, a fee-for-service (FFS) adjuster will not be applied to RADV audit results, which was previously leveraged as a method of normalizing Medicare Part C payment errors against fee-for-service Medicare.
Industry leaders and health plan advocates have expressed concerns. Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, said, “Our view remains unchanged: this rule is unlawful and fatally flawed, and it should have been withdrawn instead of finalized. The rule will hurt seniors, reduce benefits for those who choose MA, and yield fewer plan options in the future.”
Health plans had similar reactions. “While we all can agree that improvements can be made, the failure to adjust for the legitimate differences between Medicare Advantage and original Medicare will have a detrimental effect on the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on the Medicare Advantage program,” the BCBS Association said. “CMS should have implemented a narrower solution aimed at a few bad actors, but instead this overreaching regulation will raise costs, reduce choice and make it more difficult for seniors and those with disabilities to effectively manage their health.”
As analysis of the rule continues, here are a few insights and practical strategies we have shared with our payer and provider clients.
- Assess your “thin HCC” risk
Even while the focus remains on accurate submissions, some HCCs will be easier to substantiate than others in an audit. It is important to understand what percentage of your submissions and Risk Adjustment Factor share would qualify as “thin” (associated with only one or two encounters, especially if significant effort is required to obtain a valid medical record). Understanding your risk will inform decision making on remediation within and after a given measurement period, as well as financial planning.
- Prioritize treating providers
Invest in programs that inform treating providers and empower them to code directly and accurately in a consistent and submittable manner, in favor of downstream coder abstraction that is not associated with the patient’s care plan. Engaged providers will become better organic coders over time, and a structured process can ensure necessary supporting documentation is reliably collected. In addition, compliant conditions collected shortly after encounters are recognized earlier than retrospective coding, allowing plans to identify open revalidation candidates within, instead of after, the measurement period.
- Anchor on primary care
The clinical benefits of encouraging a strong patient-to-PCP relationship are largely understood. Build a risk adjustment strategy that recognizes PCPs as partners in accuracy and quality capture as well. PCPs are your starting lineup for long-term chronic care management, medication compliance, specialty referrals and testing needed to fully assess many HCCs.
- Engage the member
As scrutiny over coding escalates, payers and providers should collaborate on member engagement to ensure annual visits are performed so that chronic conditions can be properly managed, as well as documented. Medicare Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs) are a great opportunity to engage patients in preventive care. AWVs can also be used as a springboard to participate in health plan-sponsored programs designed to capture accurate clinical documentation and close risk and quality care gaps. This expanded scope, which Vatica Health has dubbed an “Enhanced Wellness Visit,” ensures appropriate care and reimbursement while enhancing performance under value-based care arrangements.
- Focus on accuracy above all else
The final rule can result in more severe penalties, as well as myriad legal actions against payers and providers relating to alleged improper practices focused on boosting risk scores and associated payments. In light of this, at-risk entities should evaluate the compliance (real and perceived) of their current risk adjustment solutions. Consider solutions that produce compliant yield, focus on improving accuracy and completeness of documentation and coding, and include a QI process to validate coding prior to submission.
How Vatica Health can help
Vatica Health is the leading provider-centric risk adjustment and quality of care solution for health plans and health systems. By pairing expert clinical teams with cutting-edge technology, Vatica increases patient engagement and wellness, improves coding accuracy and completeness, identifies and facilitates the closure of care gaps, and enhances communication and collaboration between providers and health plans. The company’s unique solution helps providers, health plans, and patients achieve better outcomes, together. Vatica Health is trusted by many of the leading health plans and thousands of providers nationwide. For more information, visit https://www.vaticahealth.com/.