Acronymic Despair: MACRA, MIPS, and Me

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Practice Points

  • MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and MIPS (Merit-Based Incentive Payments System) need not ruin your life this year.
  • A single measure can eliminate your downside risk for 2019.



The year is moving ahead, and we are in the first year with a new president and a new administration. There have been multiple attempts to defund, revoke, or otherwise eliminate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a physician, you may be asking, “What should I be doing for MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and MIPS (Merit-Based Incentive Payments System)?” Everyone wants help, and there are lots of resources.1 The American Academy of Dermatology has excellent resources focused on how to survive in the new world of acronymic programs that seem to create more unfunded mandates and paperwork for every one of us.2

RELATED VIDEO: Update on Coding Changes: Report From the Mount Sinai Fall Symposium

What is MACRA?

The sustainable growth rate formula that had determined Medicare Part B reimbursement rates was repealed with MACRA. The sustainable growth rate, a flawed concept since it came into play under the Balanced Budget Act of 1997,3 in essence kept track of health care spending and tracked the increasing deficit that was accruing to providers, which led to statutory cuts in the Medicare conversion factor that usually were followed by Band-Aid fixes from Congress and increased each subsequent year to pay back that debt. In addition, MACRA provides a positive annual update of 0.5% in the Medicare fee schedule until 2019. This aspect of MACRA is good for providers, as was the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It would be difficult to argue against the benefits of these aspects of the law.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The less pleasant side of MACRA is the Quality Payment Program under which providers will be paid based on the quality and effectiveness of the care provided; physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and certified registered nurse anesthetists also will be under the new system in addition to physicians. We are to be paid based on value, not volume. Heady stuff. The devil, as always, is in the details, as the factors we will be measured against are diverse. Having an electronic medical record (EMR) can make capturing data for some of these measures a bit less onerous. If you do not have an EMR, the cost of transitioning to one, especially if you are a small solo practice or approaching the end of your career, may outweigh the benefits.

RELATED VIDEO: Update on Coding Changes: Report From the Mount Sinai Fall Symposium

What is MIPS?

Your traditional fee-for-service payment is linked to your performance on an overall physician quality score by MIPS. Most of us will take this route. The old systems that determined pleasure or pain for providers, including the Physician Quality Reporting System, meaningful use, and the Value-Based Payment Modifier (Value Modifier) are now gone.

A small group of providers, most likely those in large multispecialty groups or academic settings, will instead participate in advanced Alternative Payment Models that will provide a lump sum bonus payment of 5% of their Medicare charges from 2019 to 2024. Not for the faint of heart, this method is more complex for anyone who is not employed by a large enterprise.

For those taking the more common MIPS pathway, beginning in 2019 you can see a penalty of up to 4% on your Medicare payments if you do nothing and a bonus of up to 4% if you do it all. This rate will increase to a 5% penalty or a reward of up to 5% in 2020, 7% in 2021, and 9% in 2022. The penalty is a result of nonparticipation, while complete participation might get you to the maximum bonus. Of course, the bonus pool is limited, and if everyone does it all, the bonus would be much less, assuming the program is not changed or eliminated by the current administration. At the time of writing this column, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has failed multiple times to pass a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act repeal bill following rebellions in his own party.4

So what do you, dear colleague, need to do right now, or at least before the end of the calendar year? You could do it all and try to grab the brass ring 4% bonus for 2019, putting time, effort, and expense into going after what could be an elusive reward. Or you could simply avoid the penalty and go back to work knowing you have locked in normal payments (whatever that will be!) for 2019. We are both doing the latter, and so might you, especially if you have not done anything yet this year.


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