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Archive for the ‘Provider Integration’ Category

Population Health Management and Clinical Integration

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Population Health ManagementPopulation Health Management and Clinical Integration – The Center of the Reformed Health Care System

Population health management is bigger than ever now that health reform has become ingrained in our health care system.  The concept of population health management is not necessarily new.  Related concepts emerged in the 1990s when capitated reimbursement gained some converts.  It was known then that in order to succeed under fixed levels of total compensation required systems to be developed to make people healthier while at the same time managing cost and resource utilization.  When a network took on capitation, it knew that it had to look at its patients as a population.  This was a change from the fee-for- service mindset that was previously and subsequently predominant in the health care system.  I think it is fair to say that there were very few organizations that successfully applied population management standards under alternative payment systems in the 1990s.  We very quickly saw capitation fall into the background because, with a few exceptions, the system just did not have it figured out yet how to view and manage population health.

Population health management has come a long way since those early efforts in the 1990s.  The concept is again front stage, but this time organizations have a head start building on what was learned in the past.  Technology and data analysis has become much more sophisticated and commonplace.  Technology is a necessary component of managing a population health and quality.  Evidence based medicine supports population management by collecting and applying baseline data, comparing data to other baselines, helping to structure evidence based care protocols based on current medical outcomes studies, and the ability to measure the success of an applied process or protocol.  This move toward technological support of population management was behind the move to virtually mandate electronic health records through legislation and regulations.  This technological infrastructure now serves as the backbone to permit data to be extracted in support of evidence-based population health management.

Population management is being embraced by forward looking organizations that have a vision of the future.  It can be quite an adjustment to make the changes that are necessary to indicate success under a population management system.  The old system rewarded providing more services that were reimbursed on a fee for service basis.  The old fee-for-service model is changing rapidly.  Overall population quality, outcomes and cost efficiency are now taking front seat.  Some providers who did very well under the old system can have difficulty adjusting their practice patterns to adjust to the new regimen.  More service led to more revenues under the old system.  Under population management, more is not always better.  Concepts of “more” are being replaced by concepts of “appropriate.”  Appropriate levels of service performed in appropriate service locations, by appropriate providers.

Hospitals, health care system, physician groups and others are finding it necessary to adapt to a new world in which providers are rewarded for meeting quality objectives for their entire patient population.   Where volume used to be king, efficiency and quality have now taken over the health care kingdom.

Our health care practice is normally a great indicator of trends in the industry.  In the 90’s we did a lot of provider integration work.  This work has now come full circle and is again a major part of our health care practice.  Our health law practice is involved creating clinically integrated organizations that are equipped to manage population health on several fronts.  This is an exciting process for our health law team as we are on the cutting edge of the hottest issues in health care.  We are creating new health care systems that include new collaborative relationships between providers.  We are applying these concepts in unique and creative ways.  This creative process results in a very exciting legal practice.

We will be posting a series on clinical integration in which we share some f our experience applying population management and evidence-based evidence standards to a number of specific types of organizations.  We will touch on some of the legal, business and operational challenges that we have encountered.

Grab our rss feed and come along for the journey as we cover “clinical integration in the new millennium.”

About the Author

Clinical Integration Readiness Analysis CINs

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

 Are You Ready for Clinical Integration?

When we take on a nClinical Integration Attorneyew clinical integration project, one of the first activities we advise is the performance of a snapshot clinical integration readiness analysis.  The theory is that a future CIN needs to know where it is in the clinical integration process before it can plan where it needs to go and the steps that it needs to take.  The initial assessment gives indications of the existing lay of the land and helps the organization shape an integration business model with a more accurate context.

Through this initial assessment process, we can identify structural or governance issues that may hamper further integration.  The readiness assessment is only the beginning of a long road toward clinical integration.  However, time spent on this initial stage can save significant time and effort in the long term.

During early assessment and design stages, we attempt to encourage broad participation by providers.  We will normally recommend the creation of a governance and committee structure that is as inclusive as possible.  Clinical integration is primarily a process that physicians perform.  Mechanisms are created through which physicians collaborate across specialty, in an interdependent way toward the end goals of increasing quality and efficiencies.  Ideally, the process should be collaborative between physicians and institutional providers.  However, the dynamics between hospitals and physicians can sometimes adversely impact the working relationship.

Hospitals have been the center of the health care system through recent history.  Changes in the health care system are beginning to change that paradigm.  Health systems that recognize the realities of this shift will be at a competitive advantage in the future.  In order to meet the challenges of the changing health care system, physicians and facilities need to collaborate.  True change and collaboration cannot be forced on physicians.  Failure to recognize this will put some institutions behind in the creation of the collaborative organizations that are required to compete in the future.

This factor will often manifest itself in the form of governance and control issues.  A health care system may be reluctant to share governance and control with independent physicians.  Failing to create shared governance models will predictably make physicians reluctant to become adequately engaged in the creation or operation of the system.  Many projects shall cover governance and control issues and loose important momentum.

The degree of receptivity to joint governance and control is a significant indicator of potential success.  This is an important issue that must be considered early in the assessment process.  It is often difficult to “undo” the damage that can be inflicted over these issues early in the process.

John H. Fisher, CHC, CCEP is a health care attorney at the Ruder Ware law firm.  He has been involved in the creation and representation of provider networks since the early 1990s. John has followed legal issues impacting provider groups for over 25 years.  As such, he is knowledgeable on the current legal standards as well as the historic perspective that is often relevant to an appropriate analysis.  He is currently involved advising providers and their counsel on the development of clinically integrated provider groups in various locations around the country.

 

CMS Comments On ACO Participation Agreement Requirements

Friday, August 7th, 2015

MSSP ACO Agreement Requirements

CMS Comment Describing Provider Agreement Requirements for Participation In the Medicare Shared Savings Program

ACO Participation Agreement MSSP Participation Section 1899(b)(2)(B) of the Act requires participating ACOs to “enter into an agreement with the Secretary to participate in the program for not less than a 3-year period.” If the ACO is approved for participation in the Shared Savings Program, an executive who has the ability to legally bind the ACO must sign and submit a participation agreement to CMS (Sec.  425.208(a)(1)). Under the participation agreement with CMS, the ACO agrees to comply with the regulations governing the Shared Savings Program (Sec.  425.208(a)(2)).

In addition, the ACO must require its ACO participants, ACO providers/suppliers, and other individuals or entities performing functions or services related to the ACO’s activities to agree to comply with the Shared Savings Program regulations and all other applicable laws and regulations (Sec.  425.208(b) and Sec.  425.210(b)). The ACO must provide a copy of its participation agreement with CMS to all ACO participants, ACO providers/suppliers, and other individuals and entities involved in ACO governance (Sec.  425.210(a)). As part of its application, we currently require each ACO to submit a sample of the agreement it executes with each of its ACO participants (the “ACO participant agreement”). Also, as part of its application and when requesting the addition of new ACO participants, we require an ACO to submit evidence that it has a signed written agreement with each of its ACO participants. (See guidance on our Web site at http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/sharedsavingsprogram/Downloads/Memo_Additional_Guidance_on_ACO_Participants.pdf.)

ACO Participation In MSSP Will Not Be Approved Unless The ACO Has An Agreement In Place With Participating Providers.

An ACO’s application to participate in the Shared Savings Program and any subsequent request to add new ACO participants will not be approved if the ACO does not have an agreement in place with each of its ACO participants in which each ACO participant agrees to participate in the Shared Savings Program and to comply with the requirements of the Shared Savings Program.

CMS Describes inadequate Provider Agreements From Previous Application Periods

In our review of applications to participate in the Shared Savings Program, we received many ACO participant agreements that were not properly executed, were not between the correct parties, lacked the required provisions, contained incorrect information, or failed to comply with Sec.  425.304(c) relating to the prohibition on certain required referrals and cost shifting. When we identified such agreements, ACOs experienced processing delays, and in some cases, we were unable to approve the ACO applicant and/or its ACO participant to participate in the Shared Savings Program. Consequently, we issued guidance for ACO applicants in which we reiterated the required elements for ACO participant agreements and strongly recommended that ACOs employ good contracting practices to ensure that each of their ACO participant agreements met our requirements (see http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/sharedsavingsprogram/Downloads/Tips-ACO-Developing-Participant-Agreements.pdf).

The ACO participant agreements are necessary for purposes of program transparency and to ensure an ACO’s compliance with program requirements. Moreover, many important program operations (including calculation of shared savings, assignment of beneficiaries, and financial benchmarking), use claims and other information that are submitted to CMS by the ACO participant. Our guidance clarified that ACO participant agreements and any agreements with ACO providers/suppliers must contain the following:

  • An explicit requirement that the ACO participant or the ACO provider/supplier will comply with the requirements and conditions of the Shared Savings Program (part 425), including, but not limited to, those specified in the participation agreement with CMS.
  • A description of the ACO participants’ and ACO providers’/suppliers’ rights and obligations in and representation by the ACO.
  • A description of how the opportunity to get shared savings or other financial arrangements will encourage ACO participants and ACO providers/suppliers to follow the quality assurance  and improvement program and evidence-based clinical guidelines.
  • Remedial measures that will apply to ACO participants and ACO providers/suppliers who do not comply with the requirements of their agreements with the ACO.

Agreement Must Be Direct With the Provider and Not Through an IPA

Our guidance also requires that the ACO participant agreements be made directly between the ACO and the ACO participant. We believe it is important that the parties entering into the agreement have a direct legal relationship to ensure that the requirements of the agreement are fully and directly enforceable by the ACO, including the ability of the ACO to terminate an agreement with an ACO participant that is not complying with the requirements of the Shared Savings Program.

Additionally, a direct legal relationship ensures that the ACO participant may, if necessary, terminate the agreement with the ACO according to the terms of the agreement without interrupting other contracts or agreements with third parties. Therefore, the ACO and the ACO participant must be the only parties to an ACO participant agreement; the agreements may not include a third party to the agreement. For example, the agreement may not be between the ACO and another entity, such as an independent practice association (IPA) or management company that in turn has an agreement with one or more ACO participants. Similarly, existing contracts between ACOs and ACO participants that include third parties should not be used.

We recognize that there are existing contractual agreements between entities (for example, contracts that permit organizations like IPAs to negotiate contracts with health care payers on behalf of individual practitioners). However, because it is important to ensure that there is a direct legal relationship between the ACO and the ACO participant evidenced by a written agreement, and because ACO participants continue to bill and receive payments as usual under the Medicare FFS rules (that is, there is no negotiation for payment under the program) we believe that typical IPA contracts are generally inappropriate and unnecessary for purposes of participation in the Shared Savings Program. An ACO and ACO participant may use a contract unrelated to the Shared Savings Program as an ACO participant agreement only when it is between the two parties and is amended to satisfy the requirements for ACO participant agreements under the Shared Savings Program.

Assure That Agreements Are In Correct Legal Names and Are Consistent With PECOS Information

It is the ACO’s responsibility to make sure that each ACO participant agreement identifies the parties entering into the agreement using their correct legal names, specifies the term of the agreement, and is signed by both parties to the agreement. We validate the legal names of the parties based on information the ACO submitted in its application and the legal name of the entity associated with the ACO participant’s TIN in the Provider Enrollment Chain & Ownership System (PECOS). We reject an ACO participant agreement if the party names do not match our records. It may be necessary for the ACO to execute a new or amended ACO participant agreement.

Although the ACO participant must ensure that each of its ACO providers/suppliers (as identified by a National Provider Identifier (NPI)) has agreed to participate in the ACO and will comply with program rules, the ACO has the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all the ACO providers/suppliers that bill through the TIN of the ACO participant (that is, reassign their right to receive Medicare payment to the ACO participant) have also agreed to participate in the Shared Savings Program and comply with our program regulations. The ACO may ensure this by directly contracting with each ACO provider/supplier (NPI) or by contractually requiring the ACO participant to ensure that all ACO providers/suppliers that bill through its TIN have agreed to participate in, and comply with the requirements of, the Shared Saving Program. If the ACO chooses to contract directly with the ACO providers/suppliers, the agreements must meet the same requirements as the agreements with ACO participants. We emphasize that even if an ACO chooses to contract directly with the ACO providers/suppliers (NPIs), it must still have the required ACO participant agreement. In other words, the ACO must be able to produce valid written agreements for each ACO participant and each ACO provider/supplier. Furthermore, since we use TINs (and not merely some of the NPIs that make up the entity identified by a TIN) as the basis for identifying ACO participants, and we use all claims submitted under an ACO participant’s TIN for financial calculations and beneficiary assignment, an ACO may not include an entity as an ACO participant unless all Medicare enrolled providers and suppliers billing under that entity’s TIN have agreed to participate in the ACO as ACO providers/suppliers.

CMS Illustrations of Contracting Requirements for ACO Participation Agreements

To illustrate the requirement that all ACO providers/suppliers must agree to participate in and comply with the terms of the Shared Savings Program before the ACO can include the ACO participant’s TIN on its list of ACO participants, we offer the following scenarios that describe when an ACO participant’s TIN may and may not be included on the applicant’s ACO participant list:

Correct: A large group practice (Medicare-enrolled TIN) decides to participate in an ACO as an ACO participant. Its owner signs an agreement with the ACO on behalf of the practice to participate in the program and follow program regulations. Also, all practitioners that have reassigned their right to receive Medicare payments to the TIN of the large group practice have also agreed to participate and follow program regulations. Therefore, the ACO may include this group practice TIN on its list of ACO participants.

Incorrect: A large group practice (Medicare-enrolled TIN) decides to participate in an ACO as an ACO participant. Its owner signs an agreement to participate in the program and follow program regulations. However, not all practitioners that have reassigned their right to receive Medicare payment to the group practice TIN have agreed to participate in the ACO and follow Shared Savings Program regulations. Therefore, the ACO may not include this group practice TIN on its list of ACO participants.

Incorrect: Several practitioners in a large group practice (Medicare-enrolled TIN) decide to participate in an ACO. However, the group practice as a whole has not agreed to participate in the program. Therefore, the ACO may not include this group practice TIN on its list of ACO participants.

We propose to codify much of our guidance regarding the content of the ACO participant and ACO provider/supplier agreements.

b. Proposed Revisions

First, we propose to add new Sec.  425.116 to set forth the requirements for agreements between an ACO and an ACO participant or ACO provider/supplier. We believe the new provision would promote a better general understanding of the Shared Savings Program and transparency for ACO participants and ACO providers/suppliers. It is our intent to provide requirements that would facilitate and enhance the relationships between ACOs and ACO participants, and reduce uncertainties and misunderstandings leading to rejection of ACO participant agreements during application review. Specifically, we propose to require that ACO participant agreements satisfy the following criteria:

  • The ACO and the ACO participant are the only parties to the agreement.
  • The agreement must be signed on behalf of the ACO and the ACO participant by individuals who are authorized to bind the ACO and the ACO participant, respectively.
  • The agreement must expressly require the ACO participant to agree, and to ensure that each ACO provider/supplier billing through the TIN of the ACO participant agrees, to participate in the Shared Savings Program and to comply with the requirements of the Shared Savings Program and all other applicable laws and regulations (including, but not limited to, those specified at Sec.  425.208(b)).
  • The agreement must set forth the ACO participant’s rights and obligations in, and representation by, the ACO, including without limitation, the quality reporting requirements set forth in Subpart F, the beneficiary notification requirements set forth at Sec.  425.312, and how participation in the Shared Savings Program affects the ability of the ACO participant and its ACO providers/suppliers to participate in other Medicare demonstration projects or programs that involve shared savings.
  • The agreement must describe how the opportunity to receive shared savings or other financial arrangements will encourage the ACO participant to adhere to the quality assurance and improvement program and evidence-based medicine guidelines established by the ACO.
  • The agreement must require the ACO participant to update enrollment information with its Medicare contractor using the PECOS, including the addition and deletion of ACO professionals billing through the TIN of the ACO participant, on a timely basis in accordance with Medicare program requirements. The Agreement must also require ACO participants to notify the ACO within 30 days after any addition or deletion of an ACO provider/supplier.
  • The agreement must permit the ACO to take remedial action against the ACO participant, and must require the ACO participant to take remedial action against its ACO providers/suppliers, including imposition of a corrective action plan, denial of shared savings payments (that is, the ability of the ACO participant or ACO provider/supplier to receive a distribution of the ACO’s shared savings) and termination of the ACO participant agreement, to address noncompliance with the requirements of the Shared Savings Program and other program integrity issues, including those identified by CMS.
  • The term of the agreement must be for at least 1 performance year and must articulate potential consequences for early termination from the ACO.
  • The agreement must require completion of a close-out process upon the termination or expiration of the ACO’s participation agreement that requires the ACO participant to furnish data necessary to complete the annual assessment of the ACO’s quality of care and addresses other relevant matters.

Although we propose that the term of an ACO participant agreement be for at least 1 performance year, we do not intend to prohibit early termination of the agreement. We recognize that there may be legitimate reasons to terminate an ACO participant agreement. However, because care coordination and quality improvement requires commitment from ACO participants, we believe this requirement would improve the likelihood of success in the Shared Savings Program. We are also considering whether and how ACO participant agreements should encourage participation to continue for subsequent performance years. We seek comment on this issue.

ACOs That Choose To Contract Directly With ACO Providers/Supplier 

In the case of an ACO that chooses to contract directly with its ACO providers/suppliers, we propose virtually identical requirements for its agreements with ACO providers/suppliers. We note that agreements with ACO providers/suppliers would not be required to be for a term of 1 year, because we do not want to impede individual practitioners from activities such as retirement, reassignment of billing rights, or changing employers. In the case of ACO providers/suppliers that do not have a contract directly with the ACO, we are considering requiring each ACO to ensure that its ACO participants contract with or otherwise arrange for the services of its ACO providers/suppliers on the same or similar terms as those required for contracts made directly between the ACO and ACO providers/suppliers.

In addition, we propose to add at Sec.  425.204(c)(6) a requirement that, as part of the application process and upon request thereafter, the ACO must submit documents demonstrating that its ACO participants, ACO providers/suppliers, and other individuals or entities performing functions or services related to ACO activities are required to comply with the requirements of the Shared Savings Program. In the case of ACO participants, the evidence to be submitted must, consistent with our past guidance, include executed agreements or sample form agreements together with the first and last (signature) page of each form agreement that has been fully executed by the parties to the agreement.

However, we reserve the right, to request all pages of an executed ACO participant agreement to confirm that it conforms to the sample form agreement submitted by the ACO. We further propose at Sec.  425.116(c) that executed ACO participant agreements must also be submitted when an ACO seeks approval to add new ACO participants. The agreements may be submitted in the same form and manner as set forth in Sec.  425.204(c)(6). Finally, although we would not routinely request an ACO to submit copies of executed agreements with its ACO providers/suppliers or other individuals or entities performing functions or services related to ACO activities as part of the ACO’s application or continued participation in each performance year, we reserve our right to request this information during the application or renewal process and at any other time for audit or monitoring purposes in accordance with Sec.  425.314 and Sec.  425.316.

We believe that the proposed requirements regarding agreements between ACOs and ACO participants, together with our earlier guidance regarding good contracting practices, would enhance transparency between the ACO, ACO participants, and ACO professionals, reduce turnover among ACO participants, prevent misunderstandings related to participation in the Shared Savings Program, and assist prospective ACOs in submitting complete applications and requests for adding ACO participants. We believe that codifying these requirements would assist the ACO, ACO participants, and ACO providers/suppliers in better understanding the program and their rights and responsibilities while participating in the program. We solicit comment on the proposed new requirements and on whether there are additional elements that should be considered for inclusion in the agreements the ACO has with its ACO participants and ACO providers/suppliers.

Antitrust Policies Avoiding Spillover – Clinically Integrated Networks

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Antitrust “Spillover” In Integrated Networks

Even clinically or financially integrated networks need to take affirmative steps to limit what has been labeled by enforcement agencies as “antitrust spillover.”  This term generally refers to the affect that an agreement on price within a network might have on pricing that occurs outside of the network.  It is not wise for an organization to openly debate fees among competing provider members, even if the organization is clinically integrated.  Affirmative steps should still be taken to limit distribution of sensitive fee information.

Clinically integrated networks should implement detailed antitrust policies that reduce any adverse effects on an agreement on pricing.  Ideally, specific pricing terms should be lock boxed.  Perhaps most importantly, the clinically integrated network should assure that all providers receive training on the content of the antitrust policies and general antitrust law considerations.  Training should be verified and documented in the same manner as other compliance training.

Standards for Achieving Clinical Integration – How Much Is Enough

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Clinical Integration AttorneyI am often asked to provide my opinion on the standards that must be met in order to be considered to have achieved clinical integration.  Clinical integration provides some significant benefits under the antitrust laws.  Failure to meet clinical integration standards can have some significant downsides for providers who are attempting to adapt to health care reform by establishing new organizational models to manage care.

There is no single test to determine whether an organization is clinically integrated for antitrust purposes.  The DOJ/FTC Joint Statement on Antitrust Enforcement Policy in Health Care provides some very general guidance on factors that are indicative of clinical integration.  More detailed analysis of clinical integration requirements can be found in several advisory opinions that have been issued by the FTC.  Analysis of all available resources makes it clear that there is no single formula for achieving clinical integration and each organization will be unique in the mechanisms and processes that are used to achieve required levels of collaboration and interdependence between providers.  I can sense a degree of frustration when I am unable to provide a certain answer of the precise conditions that must be in existence to meet clinical integration tests.  I believe some of the uncertainty is due to the fact that clinical integration is a system and a process rather than a static model of operation.

We are certainly able to flush out the primary elements of a clinically integrated network.  An organization that wishes to create a CIN should clearly set its objectives, define the mechanisms that it intends to create, and should develop a plan to move toward achievement of defined goals and operation of the CIN mechanisms.  Too much focus on precisely when clinical integration is achieved tends to place the emphasis on the wrong factors and assumes that clinical integration is an end in and of itself rather than a system and a process that much be created and continuously operated.  Clinical integration changes the very fabric of how health care is delivered.  It does this by reshaping the culture in which health care providers operate.  It is not something that can be achieved overnight.  Rather, it is a continual process of growth and development.

If the focus is on creation of the system and processes, the antitrust benefits will naturally flow.  Therefore, we should be cognizant of the way that clinical integration is defined under the antitrust laws as we structure clinically integrated organizations.  But we should avoid getting bogged down in questions about how much integration is enough.

 

Clinical Integration – Key Factors of Integrated Networks

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Key Clinical Integration Factors

Here are just a few of the key factors that are indicative of clinical integration.

  • Collaboration and Coordinated Care
  • Care Protocols
  • Provider Selection Criteria
  • Enforcement of Standards
  • Use of Shared Data
  • Robust Quality and Efficiency Standards
  • Provider Training
  • Continual Process

I am releasing a series of articles on various legal aspects of clinically integrated networks.  Sign up for our Newsletter or grab the RSS feed to receive notification when I publish articles in the series.

 

Antitrust Law Application In Rural Areas- Hospital Mergers

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Antitrust Law is a “Big City” Legal Issue, Right?  Wrong.

Antitrust Law Small TownsOne might tend to believe that the rather obscure area of antitrust law would have little application in small town America.  After all, most of the legal expertise on the antitrust is located in big cities (Ruder Ware being a major exception).

When you really examine the cases that are being brought by the Federal Trade Commission, you will begin to see that it is the market where there are few competitors that tend to be on the receiving end of antitrust enforcement activities.  Market areas where there are only three or four hospitals are much more likely to see antitrust enforcement activity than are markets with more competing hospitals.

The same concepts hold true with physician affiliation and mergers.  For example, the merger of two urology groups in a big city market would quite possibly not involve a sufficient number of providers to adversely impact competition in the market.  In a smaller market, those same two urology groups could involve all of the urologists in town.  A merger in that situation could create a monopoly.

Similar issues arise in the development of clinically integrated provider networks.  Even if independent physicians achieve clinical integration control of too much of the market could adversely impact competition and could raise antitrust concerns.  These risks are often much greater in small town markets.  This “big city” legal issue cannot be overlooked when putting together “small town” business deals.

Primary Care Integration Strategies – Divisional Group Practice Mergers

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Division Model Group Practice – Primary Care Integration Strategies 

Primary Care Integration Divisional Model It is no secret that the role of primary care is central to the creation of systems to respond to health care reform and changing reimbursement models.  To the extent primary care providers have not already relinquished their strategic positions by becoming employed, entering provider service agreements or service line management agreements with hospital controlled systems, primary care providers maintain a strong position in the market.

Primary care groups are still faced with the need to create or participate in organizations that provide for the best means to manage patient care.  Primary care groups are seeking strength in numbers by creating larger groups.  The goal is to best maintain their competitive position, to diversify risk, to create efficiencies through shared savings opportunities, and to maintain appropriate levels of influence over care cycles, protocols and division of emerging, episodic-based payment.

In order to achieve these goals, some independent primary care groups are considering merger with other groups.  Oftentimes, merging providers will seek ways to maintain some degree of intra-office independence while still taking advantage of the benefit of a larger group.

Provider mergers and acquisitions, particularly between competing independent practices in the same specialty area, can create sensitive antitrust issues.  Generally, competing providers are prohibited from agreeing to the price of services.  However, otherwise competing providers who legitimately merge into a single group are legally incapable of conspiring because they are a single entity.

The tension between the desire to maintain a degree of independence and the need to effectively merge practices leads to consideration of what has become known as a “divisional merger.”  A divisional merger is similar in many ways to the concept of a group practice without walls that was prevalent during the 1990s.  Under this model, individual offices or groups of offices form divisions that maintain some degree of operational and financial independence.  Structuring divisional model groups can be extremely tricky.  Balance needs to be created in the amount of financial, governance, and operational authority that is ceded to the central board of directors and maintained in the divisions.  If too much authority is maintained at the divisional level, there is a risk that a “failed merger” will have taken place.  If a failed merger is found, the individual providers or divisions will be considered to be independent and capable of conspiring in violation of antitrust laws.

Divisional mergers raise a host of additional legal and business issues.  A divisional model group must be structured to comply with Stark Law and Anti-Kickback prohibitions.  Generally, the group and its financial structure must comply with applicable Stark Law exceptions and must be structured as a qualifying “group practice.”  An issue that arises in virtually all divisional model structures involves the treatment of ancillary revenues; in particular, “designated health service” revenues under the Stark Law.  Although primary care practices tend not to generate as much DHS revenue as specialty practices, clinical laboratory and diagnostic revenues are common.

A divisional merger will be subject to all of the same transactional and due diligence issues that apply to any other type of merger or acquisition.  Each participant will need to assess the risk associated with merging under one entity with other participants.  This involves a lengthy process of due diligence and addressing issues that are raised through the process.  Oftentimes, numerous sets of legal counsel are involved in the structural and transactional issues.

 

In the end, assuming that the divisional merger is properly structured, the combined entity can create significant benefits to primary care participants.

Clinical Integration Elements – FTC Actions

Monday, December 16th, 2013

clinical integration structuresElements of Clinical Integration

Identified in FTC Reviews; No Action Letters

 

With the release by the FTC of the Norman PHO letter, I thought it would be appropriate to summarize some of the key factors relevant to clinical integration decisions.  This list is not necessarily exhaustive.  Additionally, it is worth pointing out that clinical integration factors are slightly different as applied to Accountable Care Organizations.  The Norman PHO letter was released about 9 months ago.  It involved a physician-hospital organization that had historically operated as a messenger model contracting mechanism for its providers.  The PHO wanted to implement higher levels of clinical integration and sought an opinion from the FTC as to whether its structure raised risk under the antitrust laws.  The resulting opinion from the FTC is perhaps the most complete iteration to date of the various factors that the FTC considers when examining levels of clinical integration.

 Clinical Integration factors include:

1.         The organization is accountable for the quality and cost of services.

2.         Accountability for overall care of patients.

3.         Strong primary care component (sufficient to support specialty network).

4.         Central governance, leadership and management of system.

5.         Central clinical and administrative systems.

6.         Ability to report on outcomes, quality, utilization, and clinical process.

7.         Actively promotes evidence-based medicine through continual process.

8.         Coordinates care across system.

9.         Information technology and central data analysis.

10.       Financial investment or financial risk by members.

11.       Degree of exclusivity.  Exclusivity begins to indicate clinical integration.

12.       Joint contracting is required to meet system goals and create efficiencies.

13.       Systems are in place to enforce member obligations to comply.

Factors taken from Norman PHO, Tri-State, GRIPA, MedSouth and treatises on clinical integration.  Also uses factors required of ACOs as guidance although ACO requirements differ.

Antitrust Market Analysis In Provider Integration

Friday, October 4th, 2013

 Initial Antitrust Market Analysis In Provider Affiliations

antitrust integrated networksAntitrust analysis of potential integrated provider groups necessarily requires identification of the applicable market.  Market share issues cannot be addressed without first knowing the market parameters.  Market analysis has both a geographic and a product component.  In the health care area, the product component involves the specialty area of the physician or other provider involved.  The market may include a specific specialty or may be subject to expansion when there is a degree of functional overlap between specialties.

The geographic nature of the market can involve an extremely complex analysis.  From a planning perspective, it is generally most prudent to begin with the most restrictive definition of the geographic model.  If the network meets market standards based on a conservative market definition, further analysis is not required.  Geographic market definition can be expanded from the most conservative parameters as an exercise in risk assessment.  Based on the degree of market expansion, determinations can be made regarding elements of risk which will in turn help assess whether more complete market definition and analysis is required as a risk assessment tool.  The more conservative market definition is generally where regulators will begin their analysis and is a useful starting point for initial antitrust risk assessment.

Once the market is defined, there needs to be some analysis of the market share that will be represented by the combined group.  The number of physicians in the applicable market can be examined but does not necessarily lead to an accurate indication of market share in any given specialty.  The reality is that not all providers in a given specialty market are “equal” from an antitrust market share perspective.  The degree of market share between similarly qualified providers can be extensive.

Parties who are in the planning stages need to gather enough information to get some feel for market share without spending the money to engage an economist to do a full analysis.  Some cases will be clear on one side or the other.  If the initial conservative analysis does not indicate significant market share problems, the planning can move forward knowing that antitrust exposure is extremely low.  If the conservative market analysis indicates that the merger would result in significant market share, further analysis is required in order to identify and mitigate antitrust risk.

John H. Fisher

Health Care Counsel
Ruder Ware, L.L.S.C.
500 First Street, Suite 8000
P.O. Box 8050
Wausau, WI 54402-8050

Tel 715.845.4336
Fax 715.845.2718

Ruder Ware is a member of Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

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