Look Beyond MSSP Policy Changes for Long-term Success in Value-Based Care
It’s that time of year! CMS recently finalized a set of changes to the country’s largest alternative payment model (APM): the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). With a goal of attracting new entrants, retaining existing accountable care organizations (ACOs) and encouraging ACOs with expiring participation agreements to renew their commitment, this broad set of changes constitutes the largest program reform since the Pathways to Success overhaul was finalized in 2018. In isolation, these changes will have varying effects on a given ACO. Now, provider organizations must consider what’s changed—and more importantly, what hasn’t—when refreshing their value-based care (VBC) strategies.
Overarching changes applicable to all ACOs
Among the most significant updates made to MSSP are a series of modifications to the financial benchmarking methodology, as shown below. These modifications will be applicable for agreements beginning 2024 or later and intend to address concerns about the impact of an ACO’s regional penetration and prior cost savings on its financial target.
Other program changes afford ACOs more opportunity to earn savings, such as a health equity adjustment that will alter an ACO’s MIPS quality performance score by 0 to 10 bonus points under certain conditions. CMS also finalized an alternative quality performance standard that allows certain ACOs to share in savings even if they do not meet the minimum savings rate. Finally, CMS confirmed a series of changes aimed to ease the administrative burden of participation.
Program changes most relevant to new entrants
Of significance, for certain ACOs new to MSSP, CMS is providing access to up-front capital, or Advance Investment Payments (AIPs), to invest in the infrastructure necessary to manage care for their population of patients. Eligible ACOs can apply for a one-time fixed payment of $250,000 and quarterly, per beneficiary payments for the first two years of their agreement period. AIPs would not be recouped if the ACO did not earn savings and may attract ACOs treating patients in rural and underserved areas.
In addition, newly entering ACOs without experience in taking on risk will be able to remain in an upside-only track for the duration of their five-year agreement period. These ACOs could remain in upside-only for two additional years of their subsequent agreement period for a total of seven years of experience before gradually taking on downside risk.
CMS also finalized its proposal to make the ENHANCED Track—the track with the greatest level of downside financial risk—optional for all ACOs.
The ability for these ACOs to 1) access capital, 2) remain in an upside-only risk arrangement for seven years and 3) opt out of the ENHANCED track altogether could provide the financial resources and flexibility to succeed in the program on their own rather than turning to an ACO enablement company (an organization that offers downside risk protection and infrastructure support in exchange for a share of an ACO’s savings payments).
Program changes most relevant to participants in upside-only risk tracks
Only 41% of MSSP’s current participants are in upside-only risk tracks; a vast majority of these ACOs would have been required to move to downside risk in 2023. However, CMS has finalized a program change allowing them to remain in their upside-only arrangement for the remainder of their agreement period. CMS also finalized a program change that would allow renewing ACOs that had previously been in upside-only arrangements to start their next agreement period in an upside-only risk track before transitioning to two-sided risk. Coupled with the pending expiration of the advanced APM bonus under MACRA’s Quality Payment Program—a significant incentive to move to the BASIC Track E or ENHANCED downside risk tracks—many organizations are expected to take advantage of this new flexibility.
Program changes most relevant to participants in two-sided risk
Currently, a majority (59%) of MSSP ACOs are in two-sided risk tracks; most of these ACOs are in BASIC Track E or ENHANCED and qualify as advanced APM participants. This cohort of MSSP participants, which largely represents the most experienced ACOs, received the fewest number of new flexibilities specific to their participation status.
When renewing their participation agreement, this cohort in particular will benefit from CMS’s new policy of applying an adjustment for prior savings to address the “rachet” effect of an ACO’s past success leading to lower benchmarks. CMS also finalized a modification to the shared loss calculation for ENHANCED track ACOs. While this modification provides some insulation from extreme losses, it’s unlikely to provide meaningful protection given strong performance among most ENHANCED ACOs.
Some experienced ACOs may have already opted to migrate to ACO REACH for 2023 and beyond, and ACOs that remain in MSSP will need to look beyond opportunities or disadvantages presented in CMS rulemaking to remain well positioned amid significant market forces and disruptor presence.
Key considerations by participant group
Regardless of whether your organization is new to MSSP, is still in an upside-only risk track, or is part of the majority of participants that have already moved to downside risk, there is a path forward, with key strategies to support your success.
Participation in alternative payment models such as MSSP can be complex, but Sg2’s expertise—and experience—in value-based care can help your organization power your success.
Our value-based care experts are equipped to provide your organization with unique insights and impactful recommendations to work through any questions you have, and more. Please reach out to us to speak with an Sg2 value-based care expert.
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MACRA = Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act; MIPS = Merit-based Incentive Payment System.