Medicare to “Unbundle” Postoperative Care by 2018

During a well-attended symposium on bundled payment initiatives for joint replacement at the 2015 AAOS Annual Meeting, speakers shared enlightening pearls and pitfalls related to Medicare’s Bundled Payments for Care Improvement initiative. But no one mentioned the fact that by 2018, Medicare will shift the 90-day global period for joint replacement—and all other covered surgeries—to a 0-day global period.

This fact is discussed in an eye-opening Perspective by Mulcahey et al. in the April 9 New England Journal of Medicine. Noting that bundled payments in general are designed to improve care and reduce cost, the authors call this decision, which would essentially unbundle postoperative visits, “striking.” The shift to a 0-day global period for surgery is based on an HHS Inspector General audit that found that the number of postoperative encounters between surgeons and patients are actually well below the number paid for in the 90-day bundle. Total knee arthroplasty, for example, includes three inpatient, one hospital-discharge, and three outpatient surgeon visits in its 90-day package.

Mulcahey et al. contend that “removing some or all postoperative visits from global packages will reduce procedure payment rates” for surgeons, but it remains to be seen how surgeons, orthopaedic and otherwise, will respond to the policy change. OrthoBuzz will keep you posted.

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