Hearing on MedPAC’s June Report to Congress
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
WALLY HERGER, California
|SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HEALTH
SAM JOHNSON, Texas
|FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
MIKE THOMPSON, California
RON KIND, Wisconsin
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
C O N T E N T S
Glen M. Hackbarth
Chairman, Medicare Payment Advisory Commission
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10:00 a.m., in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Wally Herger [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
[The advisory of the hearing follows:]
Chairman Herger. The subcommittee will come to order. Today we will be hearing from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, MedPAC, on the analysis and recommendations contained in its June 2012 report. This subcommittee has heard from numerous witnesses over the last year and a half about the financial challenges facing the Medicare program.
In fact, the Medicare trustees reported in April that the program will go bankrupt in 2024, a mere 12 years from today. Clearly time is of the essence.
The subcommittee has also heard from several experts on ways to reform and improve the program in order to bring the program into the 21st century, slowed the rate of growth and protect Medicare for future generations. It is in this vein that we welcome MedPAC chairman, Glenn Hackbarth here today, to discuss the commission’s June report.
The commission has scrutinized the design of the traditional Medicare benefit and found it lacking. The traditional Medicare benefit consists of a patchwork of premiums, deductibles, copayments and co‑insurance. It neither encourages appropriate utilization of care nor protects beneficiaries from the high out‑of‑pocket costs. Because of this fragmented structure, nearly 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have some type of supplemental insurance, and the evidence shows that supplemental coverage that eliminates some of the beneficiaries’ cost‑sharing responsibility result in higher program costs and higher premiums for all beneficiaries.
I look forward to hearing more about MedPAC’s recommendation on how to design a new benefit structure that meets and reflects the health care needs of today’s seniors rather than remaining trapped in the 1960s.
The June report also contains a chapter that examines several topics related to Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. While maintaining an appropriate level and quality of care in rural areas is a challenge, it is what our constituents deserve. This issue is of critical importance to me and the rural northern California district that I am privileged to represent. It is also important to many of the members of this panel as well as to maintaining a high‑functioning health system. We must ensure that payments made on behalf of beneficiaries and taxpayers are appropriate. MedPAC took on this challenge and provided some suggestions on how Congress may devise policies to maintain rural beneficiaries access to quality care while ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
This information is especially helpful as Congress assesses a series of special payment adjustments which are set to expire by the end of the year.
There are no one‑size‑fits‑all answers to these challenging health care questions, but in light of Medicare’s and our Nation’s financial challenges, we must critically review our existing payment policies to ensure they are accomplishing their goals.
Finally, I am eager to discuss MedPAC’s view on how to better improve care coordination for Medicare beneficiaries, including the dual‑eligible population. The dual eligibles are among our Nation’s most vulnerable and have unique challenges. There are several current delivery systems within Medicare that integrate care for these beneficiaries which show promise. However, with the new duals demonstration program being rolled out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, some of the past successes may be at risk.
Further integration is clearly necessary, but I am concerned that the administration’s unilateral action to address this population’s needs may undermine the protections guaranteed to all Medicare beneficiaries. This is a critical issue to get right the first time, and I know that MedPAC is concerned about it as well.
Before I recognize Ranking Member Stark for the purpose of an opening statement, I ask unanimous consent that all members’ written statements be included in the record.
Without objection, so ordered.
I now recognize Ranking Member Stark for 5 minutes for the purpose of his opening statement.
Mr. Stark. Thank you, Chairman Herger, and thank you, Chairman Hackbarth, for being with us today.
I look forward to your suggestions on how we can improve Medicare, and I want to congratulate and thank you for accepting an appointment for another term as chairman.
Medicare is one of our Nation’s best programs, but it has always been a work in progress, and it needs ongoing fine‑tuning and changing to keep it relevant so that it will operate in the best interest of the millions of seniors and Americans living with disabilities who rely on this program.
For that reason, I am concerned about the proposals or any proposals that would shift costs to beneficiaries. Doing so I think would devastate them. The majority of them already live on tight fixed incomes, and what is more, research has shown that increased cost sharing leads to a reduction not only in unnecessary health care but these increased costs also discourage people from receiving necessary health care.
The home health copayment, for instance, I think is largely ascribed to be used by old, sick, poor widows, and raising the price that they have to pay is just one more Republican effort to deny equal rights to women.
I would like to remind all of us that MedPAC’s report has given us a bunch of recommendations for payment updates that would yield savings without squeezing the beneficiaries. As we look to year‑end business and needing to fix the physician payment system, and there are other offsets available as well. The overseas contingency operation’s money is available to us, and I dislike the notion that we need to increase costs for beneficiaries in order to fix the physician payment system.
I look forward to your thoughts, Chairman, and for the people eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, I hope you will address this idea that Medicare is going to go broke one of these days. The adjustments necessary to keep Medicare alive for the next 75 years I think are less than a 3 percent increase in premiums. And while I hope we don’t have to do that, there are many other options, age differences changes that we have already done, raise, allowing earned ‑‑ unearned income to be used in the tax, a host of changes all of which are modest and could would keep Medicare alive, and I hope that you will address some of those options that are available to us.
I thank you.
I thank, again, Chairman Herger, for holding this hearing and inviting you back to inform us about the state of Medicare.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
Today we are joined by Glenn Hackbarth, the chairman of MedPAC. Mr. Hackbarth has served as MedPAC’s chairman for 10 years and is appearing before this subcommittee for the second time this Congress.
We are pleased to have you with us once again. You will have 5 minutes to present your testimony. Your entire written statement will be made a part of this record. You are now recognized for 5 minutes.
STATEMENT OF GLENN M. HACKBARTH, J.D., CHAIRMAN, MEDICARE PAYMENT ADVISORY COMMISSION
Mr. Hackbarth. Thank you, Chairman Herger and Ranking Member Stark, and other members of the subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to talk about our June 2012 report.
The report contains six chapters and covers quite a bit of ground, including reforming Medicare’s benefit design, care coordination, care coordination, in particular, for dually eligible beneficiaries, risk adjustment in Medicare Advantage plans, serving rural beneficiaries and Medicare coverage for home infusion services.
In the interest of time, I am going to focus my opening comments on just two of those chapters, the one on benefit design and the one on serving rural beneficiaries.
Our chapter on benefit design includes a unanimous recommendation that the Congress should redesign Medicare’s benefit package with the following elements: First, no change in aggregate beneficiary cost sharing at the point of service; second, add to the program an out‑of‑pocket maximum, catastrophic limit as it is sometimes called; third, wherever possible use fixed dollar specific, dollar amount copays instead of a percentage co‑insurance; fourth, give the Secretary of HHS broad authority to modify the benefit package within parameters established by the Congress consistent with the principles of value‑based insurance design; and finally, impose an additional charge on supplemental insurance purchased by Medicare beneficiaries.
This recommendation is based on the following assessments and conclusions by MedPAC. First of all, cost sharing at the point of service is a blunt instrument that nonetheless is an essential tool in a fee‑for‑service, free choice of provider insurance program like Medicare. That said, we do not believe that aggregate patient cost sharing should be increased above the current level. We do believe however that the current structure is outdated, and its very design creates uncertainty and thereby fosters demand for supplemental insurance coverage.
We believe an effective redesign of the Medicare benefit would reduce uncertainty by adding catastrophic coverage and converting co‑insurance to fixed dollar copays.
We do not favor prohibiting supplemental coverage. But we do believe that beneficiaries should bear at least a portion of the added cost that that supplemental coverage imposes on the Medicare program and the taxpayers.
Now let me turn to the chapter on rural care. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act asked MedPAC to report on the following aspects of rural health care for Medicare beneficiaries. First, access to care, quality of care, the adequacy of Medicare payments to rural providers, and the appropriateness of the special payment adjustments in the Medicare payment system for rural providers.
To respond to your request, we collected information from beneficiary surveys and focus groups, site visits to rural providers, Medicare claims and cost reports, Medicare reports on quality of care for rural providers, as well as meetings with many associations that have an interest and expertise in rural issues.
Our major findings are as follows: On access, we find that there are large differences in service use across regions in the United States, a fact that is well known to this subcommittee, but only small differences between urban and rural providers in the same region. To us, this suggests that access to care is similar for rural and urban beneficiaries. We also find that beneficiaries’ satisfaction with access is similar for rural and urban Medicare beneficiaries.
On the issue of quality of care, we find that quality provided by rural providers is similar for most types of services, although rural hospitals have somewhat higher mortality and score less well on some process measures of care.
In part, these differences may be due to lower volume in rural hospitals and different incentives for coding accurately as well as the need to provide emergency services in remote areas.
Third, on the issue of payment adequacy, we find that Medicare payments are comparable for rural and urban hospitals, and then, as for the rural special payments of which there are a dozen, we have evaluated each using three criteria: One, is the payment provision targeted to isolated providers; two, is the magnitude of the adjustment empirically justified; and three, does the special payment preserve incentives for cost consciousness?
For many of the 12 special payment provisions, targeting could be tighter in the magnitude of the adjustment that are justified, although the same might be said of some of the urban special payments as well.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I am happy to answer your questions.
[The statement of Mr. Hackbarth follows:]
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
As you noted in your report and as this subcommittee discussed at a previous hearing, the Medicare benefit has not changed in structure since its inception in 1965.
Can you please explain why the commission felt it was necessary to offer recommendations on how the fee‑for‑service benefit should be redesigned?
Mr. Hackbarth. The most important element of any insurance program should be to protect people against the very high cost of illness. And as you well know, Medicare does not include any catastrophic limit on out‑of‑patient costs. In addition to that, the existing structure of patient cost sharing is quite complicated and very difficult for many beneficiaries to understand. We have this complex web of copayments and co‑insurance that can be, frankly, a little bit bewildering to all of us, not to mention to many Medicare beneficiaries.
That lack of catastrophic coverage and the complexity of the benefit’s cost sharing creates uncertainty and anxiety among Medicare beneficiaries and we believe contributes to the demand for supplemental insurance as a way of buying protection against this uncertainty.
We think that by redesigning the benefit package along the lines we have described, we could update it and make it more consistent with modern benefit design, reduce uncertainty and more fairly distribute the burden of costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
As someone who represents a rural district, I am well aware of how challenging it can be for some rural providers to remain viable, and I completely agree that we need to make sure that rural beneficiaries have access to quality care while also being responsible to the taxpayers footing the bill for the program.
As Congress has to make tough decisions pertaining to specific payment adjustment policies, can you elaborate on your principles for evaluating special payments with an example of how to apply them?
Mr. Hackbarth. Sure. So our three principles are that a special payment adjustment should be targeted to isolated providers. By that, we mean a provider that if that provider were to go out of existence, that it would compromise needed access to care for Medicare beneficiaries.
Second, we think that the amount of the adjustment ought to be based on data as opposed to just grabbed out of the air. So an example of that would be if we adjust for low volume, providers have higher costs when they have low volume; MedPAC has recommended in the past that there be a low volume adjustment. But we think that the amount of the adjustment ought to be consistent with how much costs increase when you have low volume, and we don’t think that the current low volume adjustment is justified in that way.
The third principle is that wherever possible, we would like the payment adjustment to be an add on to a prospective payment, which retains the incentives for cost consciousness, as opposed to just moving to cost reimbursement, which would eliminate those incentives.
Chairman Herger. I appreciate the comission’s work to figure out which approaches can improve the coordination of care in our too often fragmented health care system. I am interested in the notion of establishing payment policy that rewards good patient outcomes.
In fact, we heard testimony from a private health plan at a previous subcommittee hearing that uses such an approach that providers decide who they want to collaborate with and collectively determine what they need to do to provide high‑quality efficient care. Does the commission believe that giving providers the flexibility to determine how best the care for their patient population is a promising approach?
Mr. Hackbarth. One of the lessons that we draw from the demonstration projects that have been run in CMS on care coordination is that to be successful, a program of care coordination has to be carefully woven into the practice environment where it occurs. It is not possible to achieve good care coordination by imposing it externally. It is not the sort of thing that you can design from a distance and just sort of plug into a local health care delivery system.
Instead, it needs to be more organic and part of the care delivery. So our general approach is to say that Medicare should move away from fee‑for‑service payment to payment systems that establish both financial and clinical responsibility for a defined population or for an episode of care and then allow providers the flexibility to adapt care coordination to their particular circumstances but hold them accountable for the results, both on quality and cost.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
Mr. Stark is now recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Stark. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Again, Chairman Hackbarth, thank you very much.
In reforming the benefit design, you have got both a cap to protect high out‑of‑pocket costs and changes to the supplemental insurance, and I have reservations about the Medigap policy which would increase costs for beneficiaries, but I agree that the catastrophic cap would be an improvement.
I am afraid that some people might separate this and do the Medigap policy without the cap. And why do you recommend that both of these policies happen together?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes. We, first of all, let me say we do think that they should be done together. And as I said in my opening comment, we think that they are linked. In fact, that one of the reasons that beneficiaries want to have supplemental coverage is because of the inadequacies in the design of the existing Medicare benefit. And so we believe that if we correct those flaws, add catastrophic coverage, make the cost sharing more predictable and understandable, that that will reduce some of the demand for supplemental coverage, and then, in that context, we think it is appropriate to say if the beneficiary continues to want to buy supplemental coverage, they should face at least a portion of the additional costs that imposes on Medicare.
Mr. Stark. In your recommendations, the current cost sharing stays the same in the aggregate. So even though some beneficiaries see costs go up and some will see them go down, the average beneficiary will stay the same.
Now why was this important as a principle?
Mr. Hackbarth. When we look at the Medicare benefit package and compare it to benefit packages offered in the private market, we don’t think that the existing Medicare benefit package is too rich compared to what exists for, say, a privately insured population. In fact, given the population covered, the elderly with higher health care costs, if anything it might be too lean not too rich.
We recognize of course the fiscal constraints that exist, and so we adopted the guiding principle that we ought to not make it richer or leaner, keep it as it is in terms of actuarial value but reallocate the costs.
Mr. Stark. But you have got, with the catastrophic cap, the average liability you say remains the same, but won’t there be some will see the cost go down by about 250 and the others up. But, as I understand it, you are going to have a lot more see their costs go up than down. Is there any reason for that?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, that is the way ‑‑
Mr. Stark. How it comes?
Mr. Hackbarth. That is the way the numbers work. Generally speaking, the beneficiaries who would see their costs go down are those that have very high expenses and benefit from the catastrophic limit. This is what insurance should be doing. This is the first responsibility of a good insurance program.
The beneficiaries who would see their costs go up under our redesign would be beneficiaries who tend to use fewer services especially the beneficiaries that use only part B services and do not have a hospital admission.
It is important to note, though, that if you look at 1 year, a 1 year snapshot, you have got this array of winners and losers. But for any given beneficiary, the risk of incurring high cost goes up over time. So if you look at the measure of the risk of having a hospital admission in a given year, in any 1 year, the average beneficiary has a one in five risk of being hospitalized. But if you look over a 4‑year period, it is one in two; half of all beneficiaries will have at least one hospitalization in a 4‑year period.
So having that extra coverage for a catastrophic illness we think makes a lot of sense and, over time, will benefit most beneficiaries.
Mr. Stark. Thanks again for your testimony.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
Mr. Johnson is recognized.
Mr. Johnson. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Hackbarth, in your recommendations dealing with additional charge for supplemental insurance, I got to agree with Pete. The commission feels supplemental insurance coverage leads to increased utilization of services.
Can you talk about why you think it is important to address Medicare supplemental coverage and what effects your proposal would have on Medicare spending and beneficiary behavior?
I am of the belief that if a guy thinks he needs extra coverage over and above Medicare, he ought to be able to buy it and not pay a premium. Go ahead.
Mr. Hackbarth. We share your belief that if a beneficiary thinks that they need supplemental coverage, that they should be free to buy that coverage, and that is why we didn’t propose any regulatory restriction on the ability to buy supplemental coverage.
Having said that, the evidence to us is clear that that private decision to buy supplemental coverage increases costs for the Medicare program and the taxpayers. And we think that it is appropriate for the beneficiaries who make that private decision to buy supplemental coverage to face at least a portion of the additional cost that it imposes on taxpayers.
Mr. Johnson. You say you think. Do you have empirical data that proves it?
Mr. Hackbarth. That costs go up with supplemental coverage?
Mr. Johnson. Yes.
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes, we do.
Mr. Johnson. And is there any one part of the country where it is more prevalent than another?
Mr. Hackbarth. That supplemental coverage is more prevalent than others?
Mr. Johnson. Yes.
Mr. Hackbarth. I would be happy to get data on that for you. I don’t have the data in my head, Mr. Johnson. I am sure there are variations.
Mr. Johnson. Okay. Did the commission look at the health status of the beneficiaries that were involved in that decision?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes.
Mr. Johnson. And could it be that the beneficiaries are just doing treatment and procedures determined by their doctor based on their health needs instead of just going to the hospital?
Mr. Hackbarth. We believe that the evidence shows that the increased use in services from supplemental coverage is especially large on discretionary services.
So if you look at the effect of supplemental coverage on hospital admissions, the effect is relatively low because most hospital admissions are not discretionary. There is a much larger increase in services in the areas that are more discretionary.
Mr. Johnson. Are there any concerns that if some beneficiaries don’t have supplemental coverage that they might put off treatment or a procedure until it is too late when the cost is much higher than it could have been?
Mr. Hackbarth. We think that when you take into effect, take into account all of the different effects that imposing the supplemental charge on, the charge on supplemental insurance is warranted and will result in lower costs for the Medicare program.
Mr. Johnson. How do you account for that? What makes you believe that?
Mr. Hackbarth. The empirical research that we and others have done.
Mr. Johnson. I am wary of that. What happens to beneficiaries if only some of the recommendations are implemented if the additional charge is implemented without making the benefit package better for beneficiaries, and could that result in beneficiaries’ dropping their coverage and then having to a pay more for their health care in the long term?
Mr. Hackbarth. Again, we think that all of these recommendations that we have made on benefit redesign are a package and should be done together, not one without the other. So we would not support the charge on supplemental insurance without the benefit redesign.
Mr. Johnson. You know you are charging people for buying extra insurance; that is like putting an extra charge on a gasoline tank because you are buying gasoline. I don’t understand that. I think it is wrong, by the way.
Go ahead. I think my time is about expired.
Mr. Hackbarth. May I respond to that, sir?
Chairman Herger. Yes.
Mr. Hackbarth. The difference is that the charge on gasoline ‑‑ the purchase of gasoline does not increase the cost for taxpayers, the individual decision to buy purchase gasoline. The individual decision to purchase supplemental coverage, the costs of that are not borne by the beneficiary. Most of the costs of that are borne by the taxpayers and that is why we think the charge is warranted in this case.
Mr. Johnson. What about not having any health insurance at all? Under your condition, any time we buy health coverage, it is going to raise the cost of health care, according to you.
Mr. Hackbarth. That is a completely different issue. Here we are talking about ‑‑
Mr. Johnson. No, it is not. It is insurance.
Mr. Hackbarth. Here we are talking about beneficiaries who are insured by the taxpayers making a private decision that further increases the burden borne by the taxpayers.
Mr. Johnson. Okay, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Mr. Kind is recognized.
Mr. Kind. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having this hearing.
Chairman Hackbarth it is always good to have you before us and thank you for the work you and MedPAC does in preparing your report every year.
Obviously, as a representative from a large rural district in western Wisconsin, I intend to dial in quickly on what MedPAC is looking at in regards to access to care in rural versus urban areas, and certain incentive payments have been established there. I think it is important that we continue to review that. But also in light of the fact that we are dealing with some pretty tough budgets around here, I am sure the incentive payments for rural providers is something that will be considered in the context of budget discussions.
But your report now is not recommending any type of across‑the‑board cut as far as rural incentive payments, is that correct?
Mr. Hackbarth. No, our approach, Mr. Kind, would be to better target adjustments using the criteria that I described earlier: Are the providers isolated? Are the adjustments empirically justified? And do they preserve incentives for cost consciousness?
Mr. Kind. Did you guys do any type of analysis on what the potential impact of some cuts for rural providers might be?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, again, our goal is to target as opposed to just cut across the board. And I emphasize that because there seems to be some confusion in the commentary on our report that I have seen. And what we want to do is target, not just in order to make sure that Medicare dollars are used wisely, but it also has very important implications for the quality of care.
One of the issues that we discuss in our chapter is the relationship between volume of services and quality. And I think you know that there is a well established relationship between volume and quality.
To the extent that Medicare supports many low‑volume hospitals and discourage consolidation, not only does that cost Medicare more money, it results in lower quality for rural beneficiaries.
Mr. Kind. Also, Medicare utilization data shows that Medicare use in rural provider settings is substantially higher than in urban settings, and I think approximately 46 percent of all patients in rural hospitals are Medicare beneficiaries versus 31 percent in urban facilities.
Medicare payment costs therefore have a much greater impact obviously in the rural areas than in the urban areas.
In fact, one study shows that 35 percent of all rural hospitals currently operate at a financial loss.
Do you ever look at the margins when you are doing your analysis and preparing your reports?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes we do. And included in the chapter is a summary of that analysis. We closely look at the margins for our March report each year, as you know, on payment updates, and we repeat some of that analysis here as well as. And many of these services, especially in the post‑acute area, the margins for rural providers, as well as urban providers, are really quite high.
In the case of hospitals, the margins, Medicare margins for rural hospitals are actually higher than the Medicare margins for urban hospitals. Granted, however, that they are negative in both cases for urban and rurals. We base our payment rate recommendations for hospitals, urban and rural alike, on what we refer to as an efficient provider analysis. In fact, that is what we are required to do by statute. And suffice to say that we have concluded that both urban and rural providers can provide high quality care at the existing Medicare rates.
Mr. Kind. Obviously, the 800‑pound gorilla in this hearing room today is waiting to see what the Supreme Court is going to do in the Affordable Care Act. I think there are three major revolutions occurring in the health care system that are going to continue regardless of what the Court may decide in the next week or two. One is obviously the HIT build‑up, which is long overdue, and that is moving forward now and we need to continue to have that move forward. The other is delivery system reform. We have talked about this before. And the other, ultimately, is the payment reform. We need to keep striving for it so we are getting payments based on value or outcome of care. On that last point, what more can be done in order to accelerate the payment reform in the health care system?
Mr. Hackbarth. We think there is a lot of good work underway looking at new payment methods, whether it be bundling around hospital admissions or medical homes or accountable care organizations. And we have long supported those efforts.
My biggest concern is the pace of change.
And the problem that we have collectively, all of us, is that to some extent payment reform cannot proceed without delivery system reform. The two are inextricably linked to one another. So I think that the critical question for the Medicare program as well as for private payers is what are the steps that we can take to accelerate the rate of reorganization of our care delivery system?
And that is a big topic in its own right. I think part of that is, frankly, and I know this isn’t necessarily welcome advice is that life under fee‑for‑service Medicare has to get more difficult. Despite the complaints that we often hear from providers about how the payments are too little, the reality is that life under fee‑for‑service is still very comfortable for a lot of people, and if we want them to migrate to new payment systems, there needs to be consistent pressure on fee for service.
Mr. Kind. I would agree.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Reichert is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding today’s hearing.
And I think we all recognize that the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission is important to us and a useful resource for Congress as we move forward to work together to reform the Medicare program, to make sure that it is there for generations to come and to protect those current beneficiaries.
I want to thank you, Mr. Hackbarth, and your fellow 16 commissioners for your work, and I know it is not easy work. But I have noticed some things in some of the documents provided to us, I know that you hold community hearings and try to reach out to beneficiaries in the public as you look at your information. But you talked about analysis of some of the data, you talked about some of the evidence that you have collected.
And I am just wondering in this process that you are presenting today, did you have the opportunity to assemble focus groups or do some polling or tele‑town halls or town halls to talk to the beneficiaries?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes.
Mr. Reichert. I think that is important.
And you said yes. So what did you learn from the beneficiaries as you talked about, I think Mr. Johnson’s points, to concerns as to whether or not people like to delay or even forgo treatment because of some of the cost increases that he is talking about and the copays for supplemental insurance? And if you could comment on, what are you hearing from the beneficiaries as you look at these changes?
Mr. Hackbarth. So what we heard in our focus groups on the Medicare benefit package was that, in fact, there is a lot of anxiety among beneficiaries about their ability to afford needed care. And they also find the existing Medicare payment structure, the existing benefit structure, to be quite confusing and the combination of those two things, the fear of high costs and the complexity, are very important factors in their wanting to buy supplemental insurance coverage. And I think we can all relate to that.
Another important finding from our focus groups was that there is a bit of a difference at least between how current Medicare beneficiaries and people who are just before Medicare eligibility look at these issues, so that people who are not quite yet eligible for Medicare and are often insured say through employer‑sponsored coverage, they are a little bit more willing to say, look, I am prepared to have some co‑payments at the point of service as long as they are understandable and predictable in exchange for a lower premium. They make those trade‑offs more readily, whereas current beneficiaries are, frankly, more fearful.
Mr. Reichert. There is a little fear connected with the current beneficiaries ‑‑
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes. Yes.
Mr. Reichert. Around this change.
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes.
Mr. Reichert. And is there work being done to help ease the concerns or ‑‑
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, we think the most important work that can be done is to restructure the benefit package to make it simpler and to provide catastrophic coverage. That is what the focus groups tell us beneficiaries want.
Mr. Reichert. I was also, just to switch here real quick here, move to the section of the report that refers to care coordination, fee for service, I was a little surprised to learn that in your comments, there is no overwhelming evidence that care coordination saves money and is more efficient. Can you explain that, please?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes. So in recent years, CMS has run a substantial number of care coordination demonstrations. There is a variety of different approaches. CBO several months ago did a much discussed summary of the evidence and sort of the bottom line conclusion was that there weren’t a whole lot of dramatic clear successes in reducing costs and improving quality.
We did our own examination of those demonstration projects and the results and came away with maybe a slightly different conclusion. What we found is some indication of some things that work, but as we look at the overall picture, it seems to us that what works in care coordination is highly dependent on the context. And as I said in my earlier comment, care coordination to be effective in reducing costs and improving quality needs to be organic, needs to be part of the care delivery system. It can’t be readily imposed from the outside in sort of a plug‑in module, if you will.
And so the conclusion, the policy conclusion that we draw from that if is if we want good care coordination ‑‑ and I know we all do ‑‑ the best approach is to create both clinical and financial accountability for a group of providers, have clear measurements of success, and then give them some room to adapt care coordination approaches to their particular circumstance.
Mr. Reichert. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Mr. Pascrell is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Pascrell. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Hackbarth, we did not have a hearing on the March MedPAC report. So I want to take the opportunity to ask a question about it if I may.
As we look toward the end of the year and the need for a physician or other health care, health extenders, I am worried that my colleagues across the aisle hope to offset a big chunk of the cost on the backs of beneficiaries. I am not saying that is what their objective is; I am saying I am concerned about it. And that is totally unacceptable in view of what the whole purpose of the health care act was.
We have many viable offsets. You have been pretty specific about some of them. Can you remind us of the recommendations from the March report with regard to market basket updates? What is the policy justification for these recommendations? And would these recommendations yield a saving?
The MedPAC estimates in March recommendations would save $60 billion over 10 years. So I would like you to answer those three questions with regard to what one of our major objectives with health care reform was all about.
Mr. Hackbarth. So, in our March report, we had the series of recommendations most of them related to the update, the rate increase for the various provider groups. In the aggregate, as you say, our rough estimate is that if those recommendations in our March report were adopted, they would save roughly $60 billion over about 10 years.
Now I would add the caveat that of course that we don’t do the estimates, the official estimates for the Congress, CBO makes those estimates. But that is our rough estimate to the savings.
Mr. Pascrell. Can you remind us of the recommendations that would bring this about?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes. So, as you know, Mr. Pascrell, we make update recommendations for each of the different provider groups, hospital, inpatient, outpatient services, physicians, all of the post‑acute providers, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, long‑term care hospitals and patient rehab hospitals, ESRD providers, across the whole board. In each case, what we do is what we refer to as a payment adequacy analysis where we look at the variety of different type of data on access to care, quality of care, access to capital for providers. There are margins on Medicare business, and that is the foundation, the analytic foundation for the recommendation.
This sort of summarizes the recommendations across the board. None of our update recommendations were higher than 1 percent. We recommended 1 percent for hospital inpatient outpatient services and for dialysis facilities.
All of the others were less than 1 percent or zero, and in a few cases, we recommended rebasing of the rates, which would actually be a reduction in the rates over time. Specifically, we recommended rebasing for skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies.
Mr. Pascrell. I would recommend, Mr. Chairman, that the members make sure they go back to this March report, which is pretty succinct, I thought more so than usual, and this cost savings is not just a myth, and whether we are talking about CBO numbers or anybody else’s numbers; we are talking about real savings. And that is what we need in health care reform, one of the things we need in health care reform.
And I have one other quick question if I may, do you believe that health care reform does indeed move us toward a Medicare program that pays providers based on the quality of their services and not the quantity? Do you think that that is what it actually does? Or will do?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, as I said, in response to Mr. Kind, we do believe that there is a lot of important work underway in terms of changing the Medicare payment systems, better reward quality and cost. I am happy to say that much of that work is based on or related to MedPAC recommendations in the past.
So we are encouraged to see that going forward.
Mr. Pascrell. Mr. Chairman, I would ask you the final question if I may before I stop here.
Chairman Herger. The gentleman’s time has expired.
Mr. Pascrell. If I may ask a question.
Chairman Herger. The gentleman’s time has expired, but you are welcome to come and visit with me. We will move on.
Mr. Pascrell. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chairman Herger. Dr. Price is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Price. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And it is good to see you again, Dr. Hackbarth. We appreciate the information that you provided, and I want to echo Mr. Pascrell’s commanding the March 12th report because I think it outlines a lot of things that may or may not result in a higher quality of health care. The decisions that we make here and the decisions that you make have real life consequences out in the real world. Seniors who receive their health care are affected by the things that you recommend and the things that we do.
In response to Mr. Reichert’s question to you, have you talked to beneficiaries ‑‑ you said that you had been in town halls and you talked to beneficiaries ‑‑ have any of those beneficiaries said that they wanted their life under fee‑for‑service to get more difficult?
Mr. Hackbarth. No, I don’t think that beneficiaries typically think in those terms. I think that generally speaking, Medicare beneficiaries like the Medicare program, I don’t think they think in terms of fee‑for‑service versus others so much.
Mr. Price. But in fact that is what you said wasn’t it? You said that “life under fee for service has to get more difficult.”
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes.
Mr. Price. Tell me what that means. What does that mean for the patient?
Mr. Hackbarth. We believe ‑‑
Mr. Price. What does that mean for the patient?
Mr. Hackbarth. Better care I believe.
Mr. Price. Life getting more difficult means better care?
Mr. Hackbarth. Life getting more difficult for fee‑for‑service providers, encourage them, encouraging them to move to new payment methods that are more focused on producing high quality care at a lower cost.
Mr. Price. Help me understand this thing. Life getting more difficult, you want life to get more difficult for the folks taking care of the patients?
Mr. Hackbarth. And open doors for them to new payment methods.
Mr. Price. When life gets more difficult for the doctors of this land, how does life get better for the patients of this land?
Mr. Hackbarth. The key point, Dr. Price, is that our goal is not just to make life more difficult for doctors but also we want to create new opportunities.
Mr. Price. So one of your goals is to make life more difficult for doctors I guess I just heard you say.
Mr. Hackbarth. We think that there needs to be pressure on fee for service to encourage people to move to new payment models that better reward quality while keeping costs down.
Mr. Price. I think this is really illuminating. And I appreciate your being candid. I think this is extremely helpful because MedPAC believes that fee for service ought to go away. Right?
Mr. Hackbarth. Over time, we think ‑‑
Mr. Price. That we ought not have individual patients being able to find an individual doctor that they trust to say I want, please, for you to provide this service for me and under a fee‑for‑service model that ‑‑
Mr. Hackbarth. Actually, no, we didn’t say that. And I’m glad you raised this. We believe that Medicare beneficiaries should have options for their insurance coverage.
Mr. Price. Is fee for service one of those options?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes, and there could be plans under Medicare Advantage, for example, that say that what we want to do is offer old style fee‑for‑service and if there is a market ‑‑
Mr. Price. In that “life more difficult” arena?
Mr. Hackbarth. If patients and physicians and other providers choose that, we think that option should be available.
Mr. Price. In your March 12th MedPAC report, you say that access, Medicare, new Medicare patients needing access to physicians is becoming more difficult. In fact, your survey found that one in four Medicare patients looking for a new physician were having trouble finding one.
Mr. Hackbarth. Primary care physician, yes.
Mr. Price. Tell me, do you believe that an increased or an out‑of‑pocket spending limits or ‑‑ and decreasing the beneficiary cost protections reducing those, does that increase or decrease access to care?
If I take the information from your March report, which says that new Medicare patients are having trouble finding docs, and I take the information from your June report, that says there ought to be a cap and you ought to have copays, how ‑‑ do you have any data that demonstrates that your recommendation in this report will increase Medicare patients’ access to primary care physicians?
Mr. Hackbarth. We think that the ‑‑
Mr. Price. I know you think that. Do you have any data?
Mr. Hackbarth. The response to the problems in access to primary care is to increase payment rates specifically for primary care services.
Mr. Hackbarth. Multiple reports made it clear that we think that the payment rates for primary care services are too low, and that is a major factor in access problems, not just for Medicare beneficiaries but for all Americans to primary care.
Mr. Price. Mr. Chairman, my time has expired, but I think that I would like to follow up with questions with Mr. Hackbarth in writing and encourage others to do the same. Thank you.
Chairman Herger. Thank you very much.
Mr. Blumenauer is recognized.
Mr. Blumenauer. Thank you.
Well, I want to just follow up on this line of inquiry, give you a chance to elaborate. First of all, I didn’t hear you say that you wanted to make life more difficult for patients, and I think it ‑‑ I am inferring from what you say that having a situation where the default is fee for service and rewards volume over value may be more convenient for some providers but is not necessarily the best optimal care and is not necessarily in the best interests of patients.
I don’t want you to be trapped into saying because you ‑‑ I understood you to say you wanted to have some, a little friction so the default isn’t what is easiest but necessarily not optimal care. Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit? Did I misunderstand what you were saying?
Mr. Hackbarth. You are correct, Mr. Blumenauer, in your description. I ran a very large physician group in Boston, 600 physicians, and I feel like I understand physicians pretty well and work pretty well with them. And our group was able to practice very, very high quality medicine, as good as anybody in Boston, a pretty tough market, and do so at a lower cost, and that is because we weren’t dependent on fee for service.
We were paid through other means that actually allowed us to better focus resources on the needs of patients, do things in care coordination without worrying about whether they fit a Medicare billing code and deploy resources with one goal in mind, how do we take this pool of resources and get the best quality of care for our patients. What we think is that over time, the whole system would benefit from moving away from fee for service and all of its rigidity toward a system much more focused on value for patients and for the taxpayers who pay the bill.
Mr. Blumenauer. And nothing that you have suggested would eliminate the option for people who want to use what for most of the United States is being clear is being outmoded and ineffective, but people could still have fee‑for‑service options if they wanted to do the old style, reward volume over value.
Mr. Hackbarth. A consistent theme over the years in our recommendations, and it shows up again in our benefit redesign recommendations, is that we don’t want to deny choices. We think that people ought to have choices, including Medicare beneficiaries, but they need to start seeing the cost implications of the choices that they make, and that applies both to patients and providers. That is the only way that we are going to deal with our cost challenges in Medicare and the broader health care system.
Mr. Blumenauer. But you are seeking to do this in a holistic fashion.
Mr. Hackbarth. Right.
Mr. Blumenauer. Rather than a blunt instrument. I note with no small amount of irony that some of my Republican friends are all in favor of shifting much higher costs on to the backs of senior recipients and looking for systems that have higher copays, that have higher out‑of‑pocket expenses, more confusion, if you will, and complexity, but this is fine in the aggregate, but somehow when you are offering things that are more nuanced and fine tuned that somehow we are diving in and suggesting that this is something that is negative or nefarious, and I just, with all due respect, reject that notion.
I have deeply appreciated what MedPAC has done over the years in terms of trying in an unvarnished fashion to give us some useful information. It is Congress that is continually adding complexity. It is Congress that hasn’t stepped up for decades, and now we reach a point where it can’t continue as it is.
I see my time is about to expire. I was very interested in pursuing the transitional care process in terms of care coordination. I will probably submit something to you in writing on that because we have some legislation we are reintroducing to try to have a transitional care payment in the light of the larger context.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will yield back.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
Mr. Buchanan is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. Buchanan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing today.
I represent about 200,000 seniors that rely on Medicare in my district. I want to ensure that seniors have access to quality health care, as all of us do. Millions of Americans are struggling, especially seniors living in our area on fixed incomes. I understand the average income of a Medigap policyholder is less than $30,000 a year. In Florida, we have over 650,000 seniors on Medicare that have a Medigap policy. Medigap is critical to allowing these seniors who live on fixed income to budget the needed care and expect the unexpected medical expenses. Should we be concerned that restricting supplemental coverage could result in skipped doctor visits that are actually needed and could lead to more costly care in the long term?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, Mr. Buchanan, again, I want to emphasize that our approach is not to restrict access to supplemental coverage or deny people the option of buying supplemental coverage.
We do think that they should face at least a portion of the cost implications of that choice. When you pay a supplemental insurance premium, you are only paying a small fraction of the added cost to the Medicare program, and so we think that people need to see a bit of that added cost that the taxpayers incur as a result of their decision, but for sure, they ought to retain the choice.
In our chapter on benefit redesign, we present an analysis that shows that if the benefit package is redesigned along the lines that we describe, catastrophic coverage and a restructuring of the copays and some people react to that by reducing their supplemental coverage, in fact, they may be better off financially. And that is because right now a lot of people are buying supplemental coverage out of fear and uncertainty because of the lack of catastrophic coverage and the confusing benefit design. But the amount they pay in for supplemental coverage, they don’t get out, again, in benefits. They are overpaying for it. And so they could actually be better off if we have a redesigned benefit package and less comprehensive supplemental coverage.
Mr. Buchanan. I just want to ask you, because we have got limited time, a second question. In your report, the commission highlights some serious concerns with the demonstration program that CMS is currently implementing for dual‑eligible individuals. I am concerned or I get these concerns expressed to me that CMS is implementing this program with nothing definitive in terms of measurement or some way to compare the outcomes. Should CMS be using some sort of measuring stick to gauge success while helping the people that are at risk in terms of that population?
Mr. Hackbarth. We think that having a strong measurement system is a very important part of moving toward a new approach for dually eligible beneficiaries. Many of these beneficiaries, as you well know, are really quite vulnerable patients that have either cognitive or physical limitations and have really unique sort of clinical and social service needs, and so we think an important part of this movement needs to be a robust measurement system.
We have limited measures currently for the so‑called SNPs, the special needs plans, that serve dually eligible beneficiaries under Medicare Advantage. That measurement system is not robust enough.
The good news is that CMS has engaged the National Quality Forum, which is sort of the national arbiter of quality measurement, to enhance the measurements for the dually eligible population. That is encouraging, but there is more work that needs to be done.
Mr. Buchanan. Why haven’t they taken a more aggressive approach in terms of actually measuring it because I don’t know how you manage it if you can’t measure it, you know, from that standpoint.
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, I think that they are taking an approach to push the measurement ahead. It is just the synchronizing of that with the demonstrations that has us worried. We are worried about really large‑scale demonstrations that move too quickly relative to our ability to assess quality in the plans.
Mr. Buchanan. Thank you.
I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
Mr. McDermott is recognized.
Mr. McDermott. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Hackbarth, for coming here and talking to us.
You talked briefly about something I want to expand on, primary care. In about 2 weeks, sometime in the next 2 weeks, the Supreme Court is going to decide whether we have a national plan under the Affordable Care Act. One of the needs is going to be for primary care physicians. Everybody knows that we need half the doctors to be in primary care, but we have only got about a third. Why is that? Because of the compensation. And you had asked the RUC, the Relative Value Update Committee, to do a comprehensive review of the E&M codes. They talked you out of it and came back with a new set of codes for care transition and for chronic care management, and I would like to hear your understanding because clearly, the RUC is where the prices are decided; 87 percent of their recommendations are accepted by MedPAC, and it is dominated by specialists. There is never ‑‑ the primary care people don’t have a chance on that committee.
So I would like to hear you talk about how we are ever going to get it balanced so that a primary care physician can make a decent living in some places and therefore go into that part of medicine, or are we just going to have this same mess until we have real breakdown in the system?
Mr. Hackbarth. I don’t remember ever being talked out of anything by the RUC, just for the record.
Mr. McDermott. Maybe that is my interpretation. They didn’t give you what you asked for.
Mr. Hackbarth. Yeah, right. Let me make a few points.
One, we have pushed aggressively for a number of years for there to be a significant effort to across the board improve the relative values in the Medicare payment system. What we have said is that CMS is overly dependent on the RUC for determining relative values, and we have urged them for a period of years now to develop alternative sources of information and expertise that can ‑‑ not necessarily replace the RUC but at least complement what they get from the RUC. We are particularly concerned that estimates of time, the time involved in each of the 7,000 codes are off, and maybe not by a little, but off substantially. Time is the single ‑‑ time estimate is the single most important factor in determining the relative value. So if the time estimates are off, that is a big, big deal.
The RUC process for estimating these things is they do surveys of physicians in various specialities, and that is the raw material, but often the response rate of these surveys is very limited, a small number of physicians enters the issue of self‑interest in the responses. So we think CMS needs to develop alternative databases, for example, on the specific issue of time and we have made ‑‑
Mr. McDermott. What prevents you ‑‑ I would like to stop you right there because I put a bill in saying you should have your own analytic people doing this rather than having the RUC. What is it that prevents you from doing that?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, the question is what prevents CMS from doing that.
Mr. McDermott. Yes.
Mr. Hackbarth. And it sounds like we are telling them to do the same thing. We think they need to be less dependent on the RUC and have more alternative sources of information to guide their decisions. It sounds like we are together on that issue.
One last point on primary care. We do think that this revaluation could help primary care, but the problems that we face in primary care are so urgent that we need to do something in addition to improving the relative values. Part of that is incorporated in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There is a bonus for primary care, as you well know. We think that is a constructive step. But it may be that we need to do some additional stopgap measures, for example, payments for the care coordination in addition to looking at the relative ‑‑
Mr. McDermott. Can I make another suggestion? That is make medical school free and require 4 years of primary care in repayment to the country as we do with ROTC officers? If we did that, we would have people in the pipeline coming out trained to do primary care, and we would have them not deeply in debt. It seems to me that is one of the main things that we do not talk about when we talk about payment reform.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Mr. Gerlach is recognized.
Mr. Gerlach. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Hackbarth, I am going to just raise a quick question with you and really rather than you replying now, maybe you might want to get back to me a little bit later because it deals with the March report, not the June report, which is the focus of today’s hearing, but I did want to raise this issue with you with the hope that you can provide us with your insight and thoughts on it.
Mr. Hackbarth. Sure.
Mr. Gerlach. I have a constituent who got 3 days of home health care services, and ultimately the agency billed for that service for a total of $1500, ended up getting reimbursed, however, by CMS for $3,000, even though it was only billed at $1500 because of episodic care regulations as they are currently written. So we wrote to CMS about this issue and, about a month ago, got a response back from Lawrence Wilson, director of the Chronic Care Policy Group, who says basically that in your, MedPAC’s, March report shows that Medicare payments for home health agencies to freestanding home health agencies in 2010 were, on average, 19.4 percent higher than the provider’s costs. A huge amount of reimbursement above the cost obviously. MedPAC’s estimate of Medicare margins for home health agencies in 2012 is estimated to be 13.7 percent. As a result, we, CMS, are working diligently to implement provisions of the Affordable Care Act that would recompute the payment rates for home health care services to ensure they more accurately align with the cost of providing efficient and high quality services.
Do you have any thought at the moment or, again, get back to me after the hearing with a more comprehensive answer as to where in your opinion CMS is with their examination of this issue, such a high reimbursement for services above the costs of the providers, and what can be done to make those reimbursements more accurately reflect the costs that are being charged by these agencies?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, I would like to look into the first part of your comment about your particular constituent question and the circumstances there.
On the issue of Medicare margins for home health agencies, I can confirm that our analysis shows that on average, the margins are very, very high, well up in the teens, as the letter says, and therefore, we have recommended a series of changes in the home health payment system. One is to rebase the rates and lower the rates, but also changes to improve the case mix system so the payment for any given home health episode is a function not just of a base rate but also adjustments for the patient’s condition and the like. We think there are real problems in those condition‑specific adjustments that need to be fixed as well.
Mr. Gerlach. Good. If you can then get back to us on what you view the progress is being made at CMS to do exactly what you are recommending and whether you think it is being done as expeditiously as it should be, given the high rates of return that the agencies are getting in their reimbursements, we would appreciate that response, and I will shoot a letter to you to that effect. If you could get back to us, I would appreciate it.
Mr. Hackbarth. And part of this issue is in CMS’s court.
Mr. Gerlach. Right.
Mr. Hackbarth. Part of it is in the Congress’ court in terms of setting the base rates.
Mr. Gerlach. Okay. Thank you.
Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Herger. Ms. Black is recognized.
Mrs. Black. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for allowing me to sit on this panel and to be able to ask questions.
Mr. Hackbarth, I want to go back to a question that was being asked just a bit ago about the dual eligible and the financial alignment demonstration program. As you had already indicated that many of these beneficiaries are dealing with complex physical and also cognitive disabilities, if the State chooses to passively enroll these beneficiaries into these new health plans, is it possible that they will see their treatment plans disrupted?
Mr. Hackbarth. We fear that that is a possibility, and so we think that the demonstrations need to be designed in a way to minimize that risk, and there can be, for example, some transitional steps taken. So if before a State passively enrolls any beneficiary in a plan, there needs to be very clear communication not just with the beneficiary but also with the beneficiary’s providers so that there is an opportunity at the front end to say, no, I don’t want to be part of this, thank you very much.
Mrs. Black. Because these are very fragile individuals for the most part, and a change in the doctor or a change in a hospital or some provider could really negatively affect them.
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes, and that is part of the reason that we think that the communication needs to be not just to the beneficiary but also to others who may advise the beneficiary, like physicians or family members. We are talking potentially about patients with cognitive limitations that would have real difficulty understanding this. So we think real care needs to be taken before anybody is passively enrolled, which means enrolled without them making an affirmative choice.
Then we also think, even if they elect to go along, that it may be appropriate to include some transitional mechanisms, like including the patient’s providers in the health plan’s network for at least a period of time to facilitate a smooth transition.
Mrs. Black. Will there be an opportunity for them to make that choice, or will they just be forced to go into that program? And secondary to that, is an existing private Medicare Advantage plan able to compete with that transition?
Mr. Hackbarth. Well, the opportunity for existing Medicare Advantage plans to compete, that will all be a function of how the rules are set up at the State level. These are demonstrations that would vary in their specifics State by State, and so, you know, it needs to be evaluated on that basis.
Mrs. Black. Well, I hope that it will be evaluated and allow people to make a choice and to have a choice because that is important that we make sure as we move forward, that we give the beneficiary and their families helping them make that choice a choice in who will be providing those services.
I have one additional question. Some say that these beneficiaries could simply opt out, but as MedPAC has noted before, would this population find it challenging to navigate a process like that, an opt‑out process ‑‑
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes. As I said, that is a concern we have, and we think that the communication needs to be beyond just to the beneficiaries. There need to be other people brought into the loop, providers, family members, and there are State agencies that advise beneficiaries. There needs to be a very carefully designed communications plan to make sure that patients are not inadvertently coerced into arrangements that simply won’t work for them. Again, we are talking about very vulnerable patients in some instances.
Mrs. Black. And then the last question, is there a possibility that the sweeping opt‑out mechanism could lead this large demonstration program to resemble more of a waiver program?
Mr. Hackbarth. Yes, and that is one of our principal concerns. In fact, in a chapter in our June report, we talk about that. The State proposals, as I understand it, now envision in excess of 3 million beneficiaries being moved into these new arrangements. That is, by our reckoning, not a demonstration project but a program change, and we would prefer to see a smaller number in a much more focused way so we don’t do inadvertent harm and so we have the means to carefully evaluate how well this effort has worked.
Mrs. Black. Well, I thank you because that is just what I am thinking. If it is just a waive, it is a waiver program; otherwise, it is not a demonstration program, and we will not get good information by moving the entire group all at one time.
Mr. Hackbarth. Right.
Mrs. Black. Thank you. I yield back my time.
Chairman Herger. Thank you.
I want to again thank Mr. Hackbarth for your testimony today. The opportunity to discuss MedPAC’s thoughtful analysis and recommendations is of great value to the subcommittee. I appreciate that MedPAC is taking on issues that are important to the viability and sustainability of the Medicare program. Considering the extent of the fiscal challenges facing the Medicare program as well as our country, it is essential that Congress consider all available options. Such a comprehensive review is needed to ensure beneficiaries have access to high quality care through a Medicare program that is on sound financial footing. We must change our current course. We look forward to continuing to work with MedPAC as we carry out that important work.
As a reminder, any member wishing to submit a question for the record will have 14 days to do so. If any questions are submitted, I would ask our witness to respond in a timely manner. With that, the subcommittee is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:22 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
Questions For The Record
Public Submissions For The Record
American Registry of Radiologic Technologists
Council for Affordable Health Insurance
Integrated Health Care Coalition
Medicaid Health Plans of America
Medicare Rights Center
National Home Infusion Association
National PACE Association
National Rural Health Association
National Senior Citizens Law Center
The Center for Fiscal Equity