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New CMS Chief Confirmed Amid Controversy


Controversy continues as the GOP healthcare bill clears its first hurdles.

Welcome to Practice Rounds, our weekly column exploring what's being covered in the larger world of healthcare.

Seema Verma Confirmed as CMS Administrator

On Monday, Seema Verma won confirmation to head Medicare and Medicaid as the new CMS administrator among a divided U.S. Senate. Verma, who was President Trump’s pick for the position and is a protégé of Vice President Mike Pence, was approved by a 55-43 vote. She takes over at CMS amid changes and controversy surrounding the GOP healthcare bill that is currently making its way through Congress. Verma, whose parents emigrated from India, has a background in public health and is the founder and CEO of SVC Inc., a health policy consulting firm. During her confirmation hearing, Verma expressed her wishes for government programs to improve health, and said she does not support turning Medicare into a voucher plan. The voucher plan is supported by Verma's new boss, HHS Secretary Tom Price and fellow Republicans who believe Medicare is not sustainable. The plan calls for retirees to receive a fixed federal contribution to purchase private coverage from health insurance companies.

MGMA Urges Action on MIPS Eligibility Notifications

On March 15, the MGMA penned a letter to new CMS Administrator Seema Verma urging for the release of the 2017 Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) eligibility information. The letter states that three months into 2017, clinicians remain in the dark as to which practices are eligible for exemption from MIPS. Clinicians and group practices that bill $30,000 or less annually in Medicare charges or give care to 100 or fewer Medicare beneficiaries fall under the low-volume threshold and are exempt from the value-based system. 

"By CMS' own estimate, 32.5 percent of Medicare providers are exempt from MIPS in 2017 under the low volume threshold and, as such, at least 32.5 percent of Medicare providers are currently unsure whether they qualify for participation in MIPS," said Anders M. Gilberg, senior vice president, Government Affairs.

In the letter, MGMA also requested that CMS notify clinicians about their hospital-based or non-patient facing status.

"To succeed in MIPS, clinicians and group practices require certainty as to their eligibility, as well as the eligibility of their vendor partners. We urge CMS to expeditiously release these long overdue MIPS eligibility notices and approved vendor lists," said Gilberg.

GOP Healthcare Bill Advances in Congress

The House Budget Committee voted Thursday, advancing the American Health Care Act to the House floor by a margin of 19-17. Three Republicans opposed the motion, and, not surprisingly, all Democrats voted in opposition as well. Following the vote, the Budget Committee continued discussing the bill and Republican committee members are expected to revise the bill in hopes of smoothing its movement through the full House. The Budget Committee cannot make amendments to the bill, but can make recommendations. Next up for the bill, amendments will be made by the House Rules Committee, prior to the bill reaching the floor. House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan was to bring the AHCA for a full House vote next week, but he backed off those comments during a Wednesday press conference.   

Quote of the week

"This is Robin Hood in reverse, but far worse.”

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), prior to the House Budget Committee vote on March 16.

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