The Society of Hospital Medicine is pushing Medicare to reclassify skilled-nursing facility care as inpatient care for hospitalists
by By Richard Quinn
Hospitalist leaders are taking a proactive approach to the latest wrinkle of the specialty’s rock-and-a-hard-place dilemma when it comes to how clinicians code for their services. The oft-lamented issue is the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) dearth of CPT codes designated for day-to-day hospitalist services.
But the latest twist to the story is what happens in skilled-nursing facilities (SNFs). Hospitalists increasingly are taking lead roles in SNFs, yet they must use the same care codes as nursing-home providers despite the higher acuity and longer length of stay found in SNFs compared to nursing homes. Additionally, Medicare recognizes SNFs and nursing homes as primary care for reimbursement via accountable-care organizations (ACOs).
Kerry Weiner, MD, a member of SHM’s Public Policy Committee, says SHM and others, including the American Medical Directors Association, are pushing CMS to reclassify SNF care as inpatient service, similar to acute rehabilitation facilities, inpatient psychiatric care, and long-term acute-care facilities. Dr. Weiner suggests rank-and-file practitioners do the same.
“We think attributing providers to be primary care versus specialty care versus acute care only on the basis of E&M codes will not really capture the nuances of primary-care practice in the country right now,” says Dr. Weiner, chief medical officer at North Hollywood, Calif.-based IPC: The Hospitalist Company. “This is an example of how just using E&M codes does not really capture the style of practice and the type of patient you’re seeing.”
The arguments for reclassification include:
- Hospitalists and other physicians practicing in SNFs need to spend most of their time there to provide optimal care, but it is difficult to financially justify maintaining that presence without an adequate patient census.
- Generating that census while practicing in one ACO is difficult because most facilities service multiple ACOs, and PCP exclusivity rules tied to many ACO contracts are a hurdle for physicians working with one just ACO (working with multiple ACOs requires multiple tax identification numbers and can be “operationally and politically difficult,” Dr. Wiener says).
- All told, ACO setup creates a fiscal hurdle for providers working in SNFs and does not recognize the clinical burden that separates the types of care provided in SNFs and nursing homes. Were care in SNFs reclassified as inpatient care, the exclusivity rule would not apply, and therefore, hospitalists in those facilities could more easily attain a patient census that justifies their continued presence. Dr. Weiner says one solution is to create a set of CPT codes just for SNFs that could be used by specialist physicians, including hospitalists.
“We are proposing a ‘work around’ by using the site of service as a determinator,” he adds.
Issues to Address
Dr. Weiner, SHM officials, and others have met with CMS to discuss the potential reclassification. Dr. Weiner says that as the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) morphs into the Value-Based Payment Modifier (VBPM) program, the issue of ACO exclusivity could become even more prevalent as compensation is tied to performance.
“One of the components of physician value-based purchasing is the cost of care,” Dr. Weiner says. “If you compare a hospitalist’s cost to the pool of primary care, which includes hospitals, SNFs, etc., you’re obviously going to be higher because you have a much sicker population; A lot more things are going on, so there’s a lot higher utilization. So this concept of assigning doctors to a style of practice just based on E&M codes is just inadequate.”
Patrick Conway, MD, MSc, FAAP, SFHM, chief medical officer of CMS and director of CMS’ Center of Clinical Standards and Quality, says the agency is sympathetic to the issue. Via PQRS and VBPM, CMS is working to put in place “a robust set of measures that hospitalists can choose to report on,” he says.
“CMS has sought public comment on allowing hospitalists to align with their hospital’s quality measures for CMS quality programs,” he says. “But without this alignment option or a specialty code, we need to at least have sufficient measures to reflect hospitalists’ actual practice and what’s important to hospital medicine.”
Dr. Conway, a former hospitalist and chair of SHM’s Public Policy Committee, says he welcomes feedback from SHM and its members on suggested changes to CMS policy.
“I would certainly encourage hospital medicine to have discussions with the CMS payment and coding team that makes determinations about specialty status,” he says.
If you compare a hospitalist’s cost to the pool of primary care, which includes hospitals, SNFs, etc., you're obviously going to be higher because hospitalists have a much sicker population.
Ironically, the potential panacea of HM-specific codes has not been fully embraced because of fears of unintended consequences. For example, in the case of hospitalists practicing in SNFs, the PCP designation is problematic in terms of lower reimbursement rates. Some hospitalists, however, will see a bump in total revenue the next two years because they will be designated PCPs and paid more via the Medicaid-to-Medicare parity regulation included in the Affordable Care Act.
“Hospital medicine will want to think about that as it goes through the process,” Dr. Conway says. “Internally with CMS, if you’re a specialty, we will specifically consider if you’re primary care or not. Whereas, if you’re in the internal-medicine bucket, by definition from the traditional CMS specialty coding perspective, you are primary care. So if you make a point to carve out your own category, then it’ll be a decision every time if you’re primary care or are you a specialty.”
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.