Medicare P4P Physician Compensation

Medicare reducing reimbursement for low-quality docs

In 2015, Medicare will begin implementing a value-based purchasing (VPB) program for physicians.  Initially the program will target only certain physicians and groups of physicians, but by 2017 all physicians is participate in this program.

The VBP program will evaluate physicians along two broad dimensions: quality and cost.  In the final rule:

Section 1848(p) of the Act requires the Secretary to ‘‘establish a payment modifier that provides for differential payment to a physician or a group of physicians’’ under the physician fee schedule ‘‘based upon the quality of care furnished compared to cost *** during a performance period.’’ The provision requires that ‘‘such payment modifier be separate from the geographic adjustment factors’’ established for the physician fee schedule. In addition, section 1848(p)(4)(C) of the Act requires that the value modifier be implemented in a budget-neutral manner.



The current quality measures to be used include:

  1. The measures in the core set of the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS);
  2. All measures in the Group Practice Reporting Option (GPRO) of the Physician Quality Reporting System; and
  3. the core measures, alternate core, and 38 additional measures in the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program measures.


The current measures of cost CMS is using are total per capita cost measures and per capita cost measures for beneficiaries with four chronic conditions (COPD; heart failure; coronary artery disease; and diabetes).

By January 2012, however, CMS will choose an episode grouper which can evaluate physicians based on episodes of care. Specifically:

Section 1848(n)(9)(A) of the Act requires us to develop by January 1, 2012, an episode grouper that combines separate, but clinically related items and services into an episode of care for an
individual, as appropriate.

Other Issues

One of the main problems of the physician VBP is attribution of patients to doctors. In managed care organizations, patients are assigned a primary care doctor or gatekeeper who are responsible for the patient’s overall care. In Medicare, the patient can see any willing provider; because the primary care doctor cannot restrict the patient’s choice of care, it is more difficult to hold them responsible for the care. Specifically, Medicare beneficiaries never have to choose a primary care doctor, so identifying the doctor to be ultimately responsible for each patient’s overall care is difficult.

Physicians require additional information to understand why the received the VBP scores they did. For this purpose, CMS will create Physician Feedback Reports, confidential reports providing more detailed information of the underlying factors which produce these scores.

For the VBP modifier in 2015, CMS will use 2013 as the initial performance period 2013. This means that payment adjustments in 2015 will be on care provided 2 years ago. Although evaluating physician performance, allowing for appeals and adjusting payments takes time; two years is a long lead time.


  1. Although value-based purchasing sounds like a great idea, the way Medicare is implementing this program will not produce the desired results. Most of the “quality” measures used are heavily affected by patient-specific choices and traits. For example, if patients don’t get recommended tests like mammograms and colonoscopies, that will negatively affect the physician’s “quality” scores. Furthermore, patients who have higher-than-average total cost scores will adversely affect the physician’s cost score. There are multiple studies that show that certain patients are more likely to incur high cost or less likely to attain recommended screenings, and often the predictive factors are patient poverty, poor educational attainment and a history of uninsured status. Physicians who treat these disadvantaged patients will be penalized by the program, as proposed, because the risk adjustment methodology does not properly allow for these factors. Physicians who avoid treating high-cost, low compliance patients will be rewarded. The net result will be very bad for disadvantaged patients and for the physicians who continue to treat them!

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