Physician payment in Medicare is changing: Three highlights in the MACRA proposed rule that providers need to know

The passage of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) just over a year ago signaled a strong and unique bipartisan agreement to move towards value-based care, but until recently, many of the details surrounding how it would be implemented remained unknown. But last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) released roughly 1,000 pages that shed more light on how physician payment will hopefully dramatically change for the better.

Some Historical Context

Prior to MACRA, how doctors were paid for providing care to Medicare patients was subject to a reimbursement formula known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). Established in 1997 to control the rate of increase in spending on physician services, the SGR pegged total spending among all Medicare-participating physicians to an overall budget target. Yet in this “tragedy of the commons,” no one physician benefitted from her good stewardship of health care resources. Total physician spending often exceeded the overall budget target, triggering reimbursement rate cuts. However, lawmakers chose to push them off into the future through what were called “doc fixes,” deferring the rate cuts temporarily. The pending cut rose to over 21 percent before MACRA’s passage as a result of compounding doc fixes.

Moving Forward with MACRA

When it was signed into law on April 16, 2015, MACRA ended the SGR, its cuts, and many previous payment incentive programs. In their place, MACRA established two overarching payment incentive schemes for providers to choose from:

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