By Peter S. Hussey, M. Susan Ridgely and Meredith B. Rosenthal
Health Affairs, November 2011
As mandated by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced a national Medicare bundled payment initiative. There is strong support for bundled payment on conceptual grounds. However, there is only limited empirical evidence to support the use of bundled payment, and concerns have been raised about the feasibility of its implementation.
This paper presents findings from an evaluation of the initial “road test” of PROMETHEUS Payment. PROMETHEUS (an acronym for Provider Payment Reform for Outcomes, Margins, Evidence, Transparency, Hassle Reduction, Excellence, Understandability, and Sustainability) is a bundled payment model managed and implemented by the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute, a nonprofit organization.
After three years of implementing systems and processes to support a bundled payment model, pilot participants have yet to make bundled payments or execute new payment contracts.
PROMETHEUS was designed to pay for all of the care required to treat a defined clinical episode, particularly those services recommended by clinical guidelines or experts. The multiple services that are anticipated to be required under a particular episode of care are referred to as “bundles.”
PROMETHEUS has defined twenty-one bundles that include chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, acute medical conditions such as acute myocardial infarction, and procedures such as hip replacement.
Our data collection occurred over the years 2009–11.
Progress of the pilots
As of May 2011, none of the pilot sites had achieved the goal of using PROMETHEUS as a payment method or had executed bundled payment contracts between payers and providers. The participants expressed disappointment at the slow progress, which for some lagged months or years behind their planned milestones.
Bundled payment is complex and must build on existing complex health care systems. As implemented, PROMETHEUS builds on fee-for-service claims infrastructure and thus adds to the complexity of existing payment systems. Services that are part of a clinical episode, and thus subject to bundled payment, are identified using the information about the patient’s diagnoses and services that providers report on fee-for-service insurance claims. The same information is also used to classify each service as either typical care or a potentially avoidable complication.
The decision rules that determine whether specific services are part of a bundle and, if so, whether they constitute typical care or potentially avoidable complications are complex and depend on the quality of the information that providers include on claims, which are not designed with the needs of a bundled payment system in mind.
Identifying bundles during claims processing is important not only so that payments can be processed appropriately by insurers, but also so that providers can rapidly receive information on their patients who had initiated clinical episodes subject to bundled payment. No site succeeded in modifying its claims processing methods to identify bundled services using the PROMETHEUS Engine or an alternative.
Executing contracts is difficult because of the number and complexity of considerations involved, including the market power – or lack thereof – of individual payers and providers in their own health care markets.
Shared savings has turned out to be more difficult to implement than expected. Interviewees at two sites reported that neither payers nor providers were eager to set aside funds from which to make the bonus payments. In addition, some payers did not accept the idea that they should share any savings.
All three sites are using electronic health records as a crucial component of their strategies for care redesign. However, the sites have found that their record systems lack key capabilities that would enable more effective care redesign.
Providers in all three sites have begun planning and implementing care delivery before payment methods actually change. However, they recognize that without new payment incentives in place, these efforts will be limited because they may decrease provider revenues.
We found that the PROMETHEUS road test encountered major challenges, and none of the pilot sites had made bundled payments as of May 2011. The pilot has taken longer than expected to implement primarily because of the complexity of the model and the fact that it builds on existing complex health care systems. Despite efforts by the institute and the pilot sites, some of the most prominent issues that have been raised with respect to bundled payment remained obstacles to implementation.
The debate we observed about how payers and providers should share risk around episodes of care mirrors the current debate about the final form of accountable care organization risk-sharing regulations.
By Don McCanne, MD
The PROMETHEUS Bundled Payment Experiment held the promise of improving the quality of care while controlling costs simply by bundling together services of multiple health care providers into a single package covering a specific acute or chronic disorder. After three years of implementation, the payers and providers have not been able to make bundled payments or execute new payment contracts. The experiment is an abject failure.
The authors of this report suggest that the experiment has been of value because the participants have learned lessons, and they understand the complex obstacles to implementation, even if they were unable to surmount them. They conclude, “Payment and delivery reform models may yet yield desired improvements in health care quality and spending, but notable gains may not come quickly or easily.”
It is so clear that the health reform efforts to date have been a fiasco, and yet what do we do? We diddle around playing the PROMETHEUS board game, trying to get past “Go” so we can collect $200, but without going to jail (though perhaps some players should).
It is long past time to get serious about reform. We have more than enough money to finance a premier health care delivery system for everyone. We simply need to start spending our health care dollars more wisely, by enacting a financing system that places patients first – a single payer national health program (Improved Medicare for All).