The Medicare & Medicaid Services Blog

(Provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services)

CMS releases its Measures Under Consideration List for 2018 pre-rulemaking

By: Kate Goodrich, M.D., M.H.S., Director, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality, CMS Chief Medical Officer

Medicare and other payers are rapidly moving toward a healthcare system that rewards high quality care while spending more wisely. Foundational to the success of these efforts is having quality measures that are meaningful to patients, consumers, and providers alike.  CMS recently announced the “Meaningful Measures” initiative to identify the most impactful areas for quality measurement and improvement and reflect core issues that are most vital to high quality care and better individual outcomes. Each year, CMS publishes a list of quality and cost measures that are under consideration for Medicare quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs, and collaborates with the National Quality Forum (NQF) to get critical input from multiple stakeholders, including patients, families, caregivers, clinicians, commercial payers and purchasers, on the measures that are best suited for these programs. Ultimately, these measures may help patients choose the nursing home, hospital, or clinician that is best for them, and can help providers to provide the highest quality of care across care settings.

I am happy to announce that CMS posted the Measures under Consideration (MUC) List for 2018 pre-rulemaking on the CMS website and has sent it to NQF in preparation for multi-stakeholder input.

This year’s MUC List contains 32 measures that have the potential to drive improvement in quality across numerous settings of care, including clinician practices, hospitals, and dialysis facilities. CMS is considering new measures to help quantify healthcare outcomes and track the effectiveness, safety and patient-centeredness of the care provided.  At the same time, CMS is taking a new approach to coordinated implementation of meaningful quality measures focused on the most critical, highly impactful areas for improvement while reducing the burden of quality reporting on all providers so they can spend more time with their patients.  In addition to other factors, CMS evaluated the measures on the MUC list to ensure that measures considered for adoption in a CMS program through rulemaking as necessary, focus on clearly defined, meaningful measure priority areas that safeguard public health and improve patient outcomes.  For example, to generate this year’s MUC list, CMS considered 184 measures submitted by stakeholders during an open call for measures.  Considering the meaningful measurement areas, CMS narrowed the list to 32 measures (17% of the original submissions) which focus CMS efforts to achieve goals of high quality healthcare and meaningful outcomes for patients, while minimizing burden. CMS will continue to use the Meaningful Measures approach to strategically assess the development and implementation of quality measure sets that are the most parsimonious and least burdensome, that are well understood by external stakeholders, and are most likely to drive improvement in health outcomes.

This year, approximately 40% of measures on the MUC list are outcome measures, including patient-reported outcome measures, which will help empower patients to make decisions about their own healthcare and help clinicians to make continuous improvements in the care provided. In addition, this year there are eight episode-based cost measures proposed that were developed by incorporating the insight and expertise of clinicians and specialty societies.  CMS is committed to working with clinicians, consumers, and other stakeholders on the development and use of measures that are most meaningful to patients and clinicians and our programs.

We invite you to review the MUC List in detail and to participate in the public process. We believe it is critical to hear a wide range of voices in the selection of quality and efficiency measures that are used for accountability and transparency purposes and look forward to another successful pre-rulemaking season. For more information regarding the NQF Measure Applications Partnership public stakeholder review meeting purpose, meetings, 2017 MUC List deliberations and voting, visit the NQF website at http://www.qualityforum.org/map/.


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CMS announces a new user-centered resource to help improve alignment: the CMS Measures Inventory Tool (CMIT)

By Kate Goodrich, MD
Director, CMS Center for Clinical Standards and Quality & CMS Chief Medical Officer

CMS is actively working to move the needle on improving quality in healthcare without additional burden to those providers on the frontlines. CMS recently launched a new initiative, ‘Meaningful Measures,’ which will streamline current measure sets – so providers can focus on the measures that are most impactful – and will move from process measures to outcome measures where possible. A great deal of attention has also been focused on alignment of quality measures within CMS and with commercial payers, and we are committed to working towards alignment of these measures to ensure delivery of high quality care to all Americans while minimizing burden on providers.

I am pleased to announce that CMS is deploying an innovative tool that provides all stakeholders improved visibility into the portfolio of CMS measures. The CMS Measures Inventory Tool (CMIT), an interactive web-based application that contains the same information that is currently included on the  Excel spreadsheet, provides a comprehensive list of measures that are currently under development, implemented for use, and have been removed from a CMS quality program or initiative.  The intuitive and user-friendly functions allow you to find measures quickly and to compile and refine sets of related measures. The tool increases transparency and can be used to identify measures across the continuum of care and will help coordinate measurement efforts across all conditions, settings, and populations.  We have expanded the information contained in the inventory to better answer questions we have heard from the public; the CMIT lists each measure by program, dates of measure consideration and implementation, and measure specifications including, but not limited to, numerator, denominator, exclusion criteria, measure type, and National Quality Forum (NQF) endorsement status.

CMIT is an innovative approach that will help to promote the goal of increased alignment across programs and with other payers.  We believe it is an easy to use valuable resource to various stakeholders, including commercial payers, clinicians, patients and measure developers.

For more information about CMIT and to access the tool, please visit the CMS.gov website.


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Administrator’s Blog: National Rural Health Day (November 16, 2017)

November 16, 2017

By: Seema Verma, CMS Administrator @SeemaCMS 

Today, CMS is celebrating National Rural Health Day by commemorating our partners who provide quality care to the nearly one in five Americans who reside in rural communities. CMS recognizes the unique challenges facing rural America, and we are taking action to improve access and quality for healthcare providers serving rural patients.

This fall, I have been visiting communities throughout the country to learn more about issues critical to improving access to rural healthcare. I travelled to Kansas City and visited the headquarters of the National Rural Health Association to talk with key leadership and stakeholders to hear how CMS can reduce the challenges rural communities face. CMS is committed to evaluating our policies and looking at each of them through a rural lens to ensure rural providers greater flexibility and less regulatory burden.

New technologies are emerging that have strong promise to address access issues in rural communities. CMS is trying to modernize the Medicare program so that beneficiaries can make use of the new technology. For example, CMS recently released new telehealth payment codes in Medicare so more services can be accessed in rural areas. This is only the beginning of our overall strategy to update our programs and improve access to high quality services.

Rural hospitals also face challenges in recruiting physicians. CMS is addressing this challenge by placing a two-year moratorium on the direct supervision requirement for outpatient therapeutic services at Critical Access Hospitals and small rural hospitals. This policy helps to ensure access to outpatient therapeutic services for Medicare beneficiaries living in rural communities and provides regulatory relief to America’s small rural hospitals. In Medicare Advantage plans, we are working to ensure network standards offer the flexibility needed to provide greater health care plan choices to rural beneficiaries. These reforms are in line with our focus on improving the beneficiary experience.

In response to feedback received from Critical Access Hospitals and other rural stakeholders, CMS recently announced that Critical Access Hospitals should no longer expect to receive medical record reviews related to the 96-hour certification requirement absent concerns of probable fraud, waste, or abuse. 

We are also now providing technical assistance and greater flexibilities to small and rural clinicians to help facilitate their participation in the Quality Payment Program (QPP). These efforts are aligned with our goal of reducing regulatory burden so clinicians are able to spend more time on patient care and healthier outcomes, and less time on paperwork. One way we have done this is to provide free and customized technical assistance to support small and rural clinicians every step of the way, as well as assistance through our Service Center, Regional Offices, and the QPP page on cms.gov.

We have finalized several policies to reduce burdens and help clinicians in small practices successfully participate in the QPP program. Some of these include:

  • Increasing the “low volume threshold,” which is the maximum amount of Medicare revenue and the maximum number of Medicare patients that a clinician can have while being excluded from the new requirements, to exclude more small practices from QPP.
  • Adding an option for clinicians to come together in “virtual groups” to report data together and share the burden of meeting the new requirements.
  • Continuing to award small practices a minimum of three points for quality measures, recognizing that small practices may not be able to pull together the amount of data as easily as large practices.
  • Providing small practices with a new hardship exception to some of the EHR reporting requirements.
  • Adding five bonus points to the final performance score for small practices.

In our effort to consider a new direction that promotes patient-centered care and test market-driven reforms, the CMS Innovation Center is currently seeking suggestions on improving rural healthcare by way of a recently released Request for Information (RFI). The opportunity to provide recommendations for the new direction closes November 20 and if you have not already, we hope you will share your thoughts.

CMS has also developed a number of resources to help rural providers and other stakeholders.  To improve the customer experience and further empower our rural providers, we are centralizing rural healthcare resources into a single website which you can find here.

And finally, CMS does not operate in a vacuum.  We work closely with other federal partners including the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Office of the National Coordinator, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, to ensure our efforts to improve care in rural America are consistent with those agencies’ rural initiatives. CMS will continue to listen to, work with, and value the input from rural stakeholders.  Together, we can improve care in rural America.  Happy National Rural Health Day!

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CMS’s 2017 Medicare Fee-For-Service improper payment rate is below 10 percent for the first time since 2013  

 CMS Blog
https://blog.cms.gov/2017/11/15/cmss-2017-medicare-fee-for-service-improper-payment-rate-is-below-10-percent

November 15, 2017
By Kimberly Brandt, Principal Deputy Administrator for Operations (@cms.hhs.gov)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is committed to reducing improper payments in all of its programs, as evidenced by improper payment reduction efforts contained in the Fiscal Year 2018 President’s Budget. CMS’s new leadership is re-examining existing corrective actions and exploring new and innovative approaches to reducing improper payments, while minimizing burden for its partners. Due to the successes of actions we’ve put into place to reduce improper payments, the Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) improper payment rate decreased from 11.0 percent in 2016 to 9.5 percent in 2017, representing a $4.9 billion decrease in estimated improper payments. The 2017 Medicare FFS estimated improper payment rate represents claims incorrectly paid between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. This is the first time since 2013 that the Medicare FFS improper payment rate is below the 10 percent threshold for compliance established in the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010.

Improper payments are not always indicative of fraud, nor do they necessarily represent expenses that should not have occurred.  For example, instances where there is insufficient or no documentation to support the payment as proper are cited as improper payments under current Office of Management and Budget guidance.  The majority of Medicare FFS improper payments are due to documentation errors where CMS could not determine whether the billed items or services were actually provided, were billed at the appropriate level, and/or were medically necessary. A smaller proportion of Medicare FFS improper payments are payments for claims CMS determined should not have been made or should have been made in a different amount, representing a known monetary loss to the program.

Figure 1 provides information on Medicare FFS improper payments that are a known “monetary loss” to the program (i.e. medical necessity, incorrect coding, and other errors). The estimated known “monetary loss” improper payment rate is 3.0 percent, representing an estimated known monetary loss of $11.3 billion out of the total estimated improper payments of $36.2 billion.  In the figure, “unknown” represents payments where there was no or insufficient documentation to support the payment as proper or a known monetary loss. In other words, when payments lack the appropriate supporting documentation, their validity cannot be determined.  These are payments where more documentation is needed to determine if the claims were payable or if they should be considered monetary losses to the program.

Figure 1: FY 2017 Medicare FFS Improper Payments (in Millions) and Percentage of Improper Payments by Monetary Loss and Type of Error

 11-15-2017

CMS continues to implement tools and work with law enforcement partners and other key stakeholders to help focus on prevention, early detection, and data sharing to prevent and reduce improper payments in Medicare FFS.  Although documentation errors are the largest cause of improper payments, CMS employs multi-layered efforts to target all root causes of improper payments, with an emphasis on prevention-oriented activities.

CMS is pleased to have achieved this reduction in the improper payment rate, but we still have work to do.  We remain committed to collaborating across CMS and with stakeholders to address potential vulnerabilities and continuing to strengthen our program integrity efforts, while minimizing burden for our partners.

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Thank You For Your Service

CMS BLOG
https://blog.cms.gov/2017/11/11/thank-you-for-your-service

November 9, 2017
By:  Seema Verma, CMS Administrator

Thank You for Your Service

We’ve all heard the stories of bravery and sacrifice, or have personally experienced the inspiring dedication to service of our US Military veterans, but for me their heroism was made real on a visit to Normandy.

Early in the morning on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Army Rangers climbed the cliffs of Point-du-Hoc to the west of Omaha Beach to destroy a battery of 155mm German cannons on top of the cliff. As I stood there, viewing these cliffs as a tourist, I couldn’t help but imagine the fear that must’ve been going through their minds as they scaled those massive, rocky cliffs under heavy German fire, only to reach the top and face even heavier opposition. How, in the face of what they must have considered certain death, they pressed on knowing the importance of their mission, and that their actions would save countless American and foreign lives.

I then went to see the cemetery where those lost on D-Day, including the Army Rangers who died while taking that hill, were buried. While looking at that field of graves, I found myself emotionally overwhelmed thinking about how these men died for the freedom and safety of people they didn’t know and would never meet.

As a public servant, on this day and every day, I think about the sacrifices of America’s Veterans, both dead and living, that inspire me to also make sacrifices so that others can live better lives. When I think about the work we do at CMS, I think about those Rangers, I think about the price they paid for our freedoms, and I think about the fact that their sacrifice should be honored by making sure that we serve our country in a manner worthy of their heroism.

America’s veterans are heroes. CMS currently employs 591 veterans, comprising 10% of our workforce. Last year we hired 38 veterans, and will continue to recruit and retain veterans within our ranks because they not only bring a wealth of knowledge and skill, but a profound sense of honor and dedication to public service that is an important quality in all CMS employees.

To America’s veterans, thank you for your service, and your devotion to our country. We at CMS will never take for granted what you have done for us and for this country. On behalf of myself, my family, and CMS employees currently serving all across our country, I hope you have a great Veterans Day, you’ve earned it.

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Medicare Open Enrollment – New Features make Shopping for 2018 Coverage Easier!

By Seema Verma, Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

Each October, as the days grow shorter, time seems to speed up. Maybe it’s because we start planning for the looming holidays or begin bracing for the cold winter, but before we know it we’re saying goodbye to one year and ringing in a new one. That’s why it’s important to set aside some time between now and early December to think about your 2018 healthcare needs by shopping for high-quality Medicare health and drug plans during Open Enrollment.

Medicare Open Enrollment kicked off on October 15 and will run through December 7. I’m pleased to share that you will have better access to high-quality health coverage choices offering more options and lower premiums in 2018. This means you should be able to find plans that cost less but still give you quality care and better customer service. In fact, the number of Medicare Advantage plans available to individuals across the country is increasing from about 2,700 to more than 3,100 – and more than 85 percent of people with Medicare will have access to 10 or more Medicare Advantage plans. We are estimating that the average Medicare Advantage monthly premium will decrease by $1.91 in 2018, from an average of $31.91 in 2017 to $30. The Medicare prescription drug plan average basic premium is projected to decline for the first time since 2012 (a decrease of approximately $1.20 below the 2017 average basic premium of $34.70).

The choices available demonstrate the benefits of supply and demand market forces in a strong healthcare market. Consumers are demanding more from their insurance plans and in turn Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, like any business, are responding with better service at a lower cost leading to a truly patient-centered approach to healthcare.

Medicare is making some exciting changes of our own to make it easier for you to make an informed choice between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. You may have noticed a few of these changes in your Medicare & You handbook, but it doesn’t stop there. We’re improving our digital features on Medicare.gov, where you can sign-up to get timely notices about Open Enrollment and other important Medicare updates directly to your inbox. While on Medicare.gov be sure to check out the new help wizard that will point you to resources that will help you make informed healthcare decisions. These updates mirror the private sector and reflect a few ways we’re modernizing the customer service experience.

If you’ve been thinking about starting your new year with a Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Plan, or you’re interested in making some changes to your current plan, now is the time to shop for your coverage. Medicare health and drug plans change each year, and so can your health needs. That’s why it’s always a good idea to consider what needs you may have for 2018 and take a look at the available plans in your area.

Your coverage will begin on January 1, 2018. If you miss the deadline, you will likely have to wait a full year before you are able to make changes to your plan. During Open Enrollment, you can decide to stay in Original Medicare or join a Medicare Advantage Plan. If you find your current coverage still meets your healthcare needs, then you’re done.

Open Enrollment is also a good opportunity to make sure you’re doing everything you can to protect your identity and your health by guarding your Medicare card like you would a credit card. Identity theft resulting from stolen Medicare numbers is becoming more and more common. Medicare is here to help in the fight by removing Social Security Numbers from Medicare cards and replacing them with a new, unique number for each person with Medicare. Medicare will mail new Medicare cards with the new numbers between April 2018 and April 2019.

Don’t let the opportunity to have better quality healthcare at a lower price pass you by. Get a jump start on your new year’s health resolution today. You can visit Medicare.gov (http://www.medicare.gov), call 1-800-MEDICARE, or contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) to learn more.


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Las Nuevas Tarjetas de Medicare Ya Llegarán Pronto

Por: Seema Verma, Administradora de los CMS

Como podría haber escuchado ya, o quizás ya vio un comercial de televisión, los Centros de Servicios de Medicare y Medicaid pronto emitirán a cada beneficiario de Medicare una nueva Tarjeta de Medicare, sin números de Seguro Social, para prevenir el fraude, mantener seguros los fondos de los contribuyentes, y para asegurar que siempre ponemos las necesidades de los pacientes primero.

Desafortunadamente los criminales están cada vez más interesados en las personas de 65 años o más para el robo de identidad médica, incluso cuando alguien usa ilegalmente el número de Medicare de otra persona. Un ladrón de identidad puede facturarle a Medicare por servicios costosos que nunca fueron proporcionados o cobrar más por los servicios proporcionados. Esto puede resultar en ambigüedades en los registros médicos, lo que puede significar el retraso en la atención o servicios negados para los pacientes y también impacta los fondos de los contribuyentes.

Para ayudar a combatir esto, les enviaremos a todos los beneficiarios de Medicare una nueva tarjeta con un número único asignado al azar. Cuenta con once caracteres, una combinación de números y letras mayúsculas.

Debido a que el número se genera al azar, no hay conexión a otra información de identificación personal. Este nuevo número reemplazará al número actual basado en el Seguro Social, y está diseñado para proteger la información personal de los beneficiarios de Medicare.

Comenzaremos a enviar por correo las recién diseñadas tarjetas de Medicare en abril de 2018, y reemplazaremos todas las tarjetas antes de abril de 2019. Si usted es beneficiario de Medicare o pronto lo será, no tendrá que hacer nada y podrá comenzar a usar su nueva tarjeta tan pronto como la reciba.

Cuando reciba su nueva tarjeta, le pediremos que destruya su tarjeta de Medicare de una manera segura. Asegúrese de traer la nueva tarjeta a las citas de sus médicos, y mantenga siempre confidencial su nuevo número. Esto ayudará a proteger su identidad personal y prevenir el fraude de identidad médica porque los ladrones de identidad no pueden facturar a Medicare sin un número de Medicare válido. Además, usted y sus proveedores de atención médica podrán utilizar herramientas seguras en línea que estamos desarrollando y que brindarán acceso rápido a su número de Medicare cuando sea necesario.

Usted va a escuchar mucho más acerca de esta iniciativa en las próximas semanas y meses, y también estamos ayudando a los médicos y otros proveedores de atención médica a prepararse para el cambio. Queremos hacer este proceso tan fácil como sea posible para todos los involucrados. Sobre todo, queremos que las personas con Medicare y los proveedores de atención médica sepan estos cambios con anticipación y tengan la información necesaria para asegurar una transición fácil a la nueva tarjeta.

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New Medicare Cards are Coming Soon

By:  Seema Verma, CMS Administrator

As you may have heard, or perhaps you’ve seen a recent TV commercial, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will soon be issuing every Medicare beneficiary a new Medicare Card, without Social Security Numbers, to prevent fraud, fight identity theft, and keep taxpayer dollars safe, and to help ensure that we always put the needs of patients first.

It’s unfortunate that criminals are increasingly targeting people age 65 or older for medical identity theft, including when someone illegally uses another person’s Medicare number. An identity thief may bill Medicare for expensive services that were never provided or overbill for provided services. This can lead to inaccuracies in medical records, which can mean delayed care or denied services for patients and impacts taxpayer funding.

To help combat this, we’ll be sending all Medicare beneficiaries a new card with a unique, randomly-assigned Medicare number.  It will consist of eleven characters, a combination of numbers and uppercase letters.

Because it is randomly generated, there is no connection to any other personal identifying information. This new number will replace the Social Security-based number currently used on all Medicare cards, and it’s designed to protect the personal information of Medicare beneficiaries.

We’ll begin mailing the newly designed Medicare cards in April 2018, and we’ll replace all cards by April 2019. If you’re a Medicare beneficiary, or soon will be, you don’t need to do anything, and you can start using your new card as soon as you get it.

When you get your new card, we’ll ask you to safely and securely destroy your current Medicare card.  Make sure you bring the new card to your doctors’ appointments, and always keep your new number confidential.  This will help protect your personal identity and prevent medical identity fraud because identity thieves can’t bill Medicare without a valid Medicare number. Additionally, you and your health care providers will be able to use secure online tools that we’re developing that will support quick access to your Medicare number when needed.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about this initiative in the coming weeks and months, and we’re also helping doctors and other healthcare providers get ready for the change.  We want to make this process as easy as possible for everyone involved. Above all, we want to ensure that people with Medicare and healthcare providers know about these changes well in advance and have the information needed to ensure an easy transition to the new card.

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The true strength of our healthcare system is its people

By Seema Verma, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

As a wife and mother, my family’s health is always foremost on my mind. That is why a recent personal experience will forever shape the impact I want to have while serving as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Earlier this month, while at an airport with our two children, my husband collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. He’s home now and his prognosis is excellent. However, if it weren’t for the courageous bystanders who administered CPR and the dedicated medical professionals at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was admitted, he wouldn’t be with us today.

I wasn’t at the airport when my husband collapsed. I arrived at the hospital as soon as I could, and as I met the team of professionals who were caring for him, I was amazed by their skill and compassion. From the hospital administrators to the physicians, nurses, and many others who took charge of his care, I witnessed the true greatness of our healthcare system: the remarkable people who serve within it.

My life would be very different if it weren’t for the diligence and expertise of the first responders at the airport and the healthcare professionals at the hospital. Even in our age of advanced technology, procedures, and therapies, it’s the people that make our healthcare system one that we feel we can entrust with the care of our loved ones.

My husband is a physician, and I have many relatives and close friends who are healthcare professionals as well.  To a person these caregivers are some of the smartest and most selfless people I know. They have put in long hours and made many sacrifices along the path of medical education and training. What motivates them isn’t a promise of high salaries, or a quest for esteem, but a genuine drive to help patients and their families when they are most vulnerable.

Our healthcare system is made up of a community of professionals who want to do good.  As a wife and a mother I am so grateful for this, because these professionals saved my husband and my children’s father. As the Administrator of CMS, I am inspired by this and feel compelled to do everything I can to support these caregivers. Our agency must make it easier for them to focus on doing the work that patients and families need them to do without causing them to be subject to excessive regulatory and administrative burden.

That’s why in all of our recent proposed rules, CMS has asked healthcare providers for their thoughts on how to simplify our regulations. And over the next few months we will be announcing additional initiatives to ease the burden our government places on healthcare providers. We will continue to engage with our providers on their concerns.

Some regulations are necessary in order to ensure patient safety and well-being, and to protect the integrity of federal health care programs.  However, over the past few years, regulations have tilted more towards creating burdens than towards serving as a safeguard for the programs.  This shift is now having a negative impact on patient care, hindering innovation, and increasing healthcare costs.

To make sure we are addressing the actual pain points that doctors feel, we are visiting them where they work, listening to their stories about the challenges they face, and bringing those lessons back to CMS. We have heard time and again that documentation for payment and for quality reporting is unnecessarily time-consuming and keeps clinicians working late into the night just to keep up on paperwork. Electronic health records that were supposed to make providers’ lives easier by freeing up more time to spend on patient care have distanced them from their patients. New payment structures that were meant to increase coordination have added yet another layer of rules and requirements.

No one went into medicine to become a paperwork expert. We are listening, integrating the feedback we hear into our work at CMS, and making changes that will make it easier for doctors, nurses, and other clinicians to do what they entered medicine to do: take care of those in need.

It can be easy to forget how important our healthcare system is, to forget that every day, men and women are hard at work treating, comforting, and healing. For those of us whose families have received lifesaving care, we are forever grateful. The entire CMS team and I are committed to doing our part to make sure that these caring professionals can do their job without the burden of unnecessary regulation.


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National Minority Health Month: Bridging Observance and Action to Achieve Health Equity

By Cara V. James, PhD, Director, CMS Office of Minority Health 

Each April we observe National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme is, Bridging Health Equity Across Communities. This theme acknowledges the important role that social determinants of health play in individual and community well-being. It also evokes action and activity  around health equity. For it is not enough for us to simply observe National Minority Health Month and share statistics on long-standing health and health care disparities. We should strive to move the needle by reducing these disparities and improving health care quality and outcomes for all. As this National Minority Health Month comes to a close, we still have work to do, and I’m hoping each of us can take a moment and consider the following question:

What will it take to achieve health equity?

CMS has adopted a health equity framework that focuses on increasing understanding and awareness of disparities, developing and disseminating solutions, and implementing sustainable action. As we have sought to implement this framework, we have identified a number of areas that need to be considered when addressing a specific disparity– the social determinants of health, data, and the seven “A’s”.
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge there is a problem to be addressed. We need to agree on the goal and identify what resources will be necessary to meet it. Resources can be difficult to come by, so determining how the goal aligns with existing priorities may be key. Next we must decide what actions do we need to take to achieve our goal? Are we already doing some or all of them?

Seven A’s for Addressing Health Equity

  1. Acknowledge there is a problem to be addressed.
  2. Agree on the goal, and identify what resources are necessary to meet it.
  3. Align the goal with existing priorities.
  4. Determine what actions are needed to achieve the goal.
  5. Create alliances to implement the actions.
  6. Analyze progress, and adjust the plan as necessary.
  7. Have shared accountability for reaching the goal.

 

We know that health equity cannot be achieved by a single individual or organization, so forging alliances and working together is critical. We also know that we must be able to measure our progress. Having data and doing analysis of it are important for the development, assessment, and revision of our health equity plan. The last of the A’s requires us to be accountable and ask the question – what happens if we do not reach our goal? There shouldn’t be one person or organization responsible for the success or failure of a plan, but a shared accountability.

While we are considering each of the seven A’s, we must also consider the myriad of social factors that influence health and well-being of individuals and the communities in which they reside. Whether we refer to them as social risk factors or social determinants of health, we know that things such as socioeconomic position, race, ethnicity, cultural context, gender, social relationships, and residential and community context affect our health more than the care we receive from our health care providers. We must consider these factors as we think about our goals, the actions we need to take, and the alliances we forge.

The CMS Office of Minority Health is helping to embed these actions across CMS and HHS. For example, we routinely share HEDIS and CAHPS quality measures stratified by race, ethnicity, and gender, providing health plans with actionable data to innovate and prioritize health equity and quality improvement activities. Organizations participating in the Accountable Health Communities Model will be montoring disparities as they link beneficiaries with commmunity services. We are working with our sister agency, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s, Federal Office of Rural Health Policy on a Chronic Care Management Education and Outreach Campaign. The campaign is focused on professionals and consumers in underserved rural areas, and racial and ethnic minorities. We are also collaborating with organizations outside the federal government to help reduce readmissions among racially and ethnically diverse beneficiaries, and to develop their own plans for achieving health equity.

As we continue on our path to equity, we encourage you to consider the seven A’s, the role of social risk factors, and the importance of data in your day-to-day activities. Recommit every day to the ultimate goal of achieving health equity by bridging observance and action during the remainder of National Minority Health Month and throughout the year.

To learn more about achieving health equity and other activities underway at the CMS Office of Minority Health, visit: go.cms.gov/omh. 


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