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Health Groups Turn Up Heat on 2021 Medicare Fee Schedule

WASHINGTON — Physician groups and other healthcare providers continued expressing their dissatisfaction with the 2021 Medicare physician fee schedule proposed rule from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

“While we support the CPT coding revisions and revaluations of office and outpatient evaluation and management (E/M) services recommended by the AMA/Specialty Society RVS Update Committee [RUC], we strongly oppose the proposed budget neutrality reduction proffered by CMS for these and other physician fee schedule changes proposed for 2021,” said a letter sent Monday to CMS Administrator Seema Verma from 47 medical and health specialty groups including the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Radiology, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The groups represent 1.4 million providers, including physicians, social workers, and speech-language pathologists.

If adopted as proposed, the fee schedule would “reduce Medicare payment for services provided in patients’ homes, physician offices, non-physician practices, therapy clinics, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and rehabilitation agencies — at a time when the spread of COVIDÔÇÉ19 remains unchecked,” the letter said.

The proposed fee schedule, which was announced in early August, includes “simplified coding and billing requirements for E/M visits [that] will go into effect January 1, 2021, saving clinicians 2.3 million hours per year in burden reduction,” CMS said. “As a result of this change, clinicians will be able to make better use of their time and restore the doctor-patient relationship by spending less time on documenting visits and more time on treating their patients.”

However, the proposed rule also lists (on p. 50375) the estimated impacts of the rule’s payment changes for each specialty, which includes losers as well as winners.

Three specialties fare the best: endocrinology, with a 17% increase; rheumatology, with a 16% increase; and hematology/oncology, with a 14% increase. At the bottom are nurse anesthetists and radiologists, both with an 11% decrease; chiropractors, with a 10% decrease; and interventional radiology, pathology, physical and occupational therapy, and cardiac surgery, all with a 9% decrease. Surgical specialties in general took some of the biggest hits, with cuts in every category ranging from 5% to 9%.

The proposed rule also lists the fee schedule’s final conversion factor — the amount that Medicare’s relative value units (RVUs) are multiplied by to arrive at a reimbursement for a particular service or procedure under Medicare’s fee-for-service system. Due to budget neutrality changes required by law, the proposed 2021 conversion factor is $32.26, a decrease of $3.83 from the 2020 conversion factor of $36.09, CMS said. Comments on the proposed rule were due by 5 p.m. on Monday.

American Medical Group Association (AMGA), which represents group practices, also weighed in on the proposed rule. “AMGA is concerned that the CMS proposed 2021 Physician Fee Schedule rule would inadvertently exacerbate the financial situation facing our membership that is a result of the ongoing novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,” the association said in a statement. “While appreciative of the effort to increase support for primary care services, the Physician Fee Schedule’s budget neutrality requirements effectively