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CMS to Pay Clinicians Who Join COVID-19 Trials With MIPS Credit

What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:

APRIL 22, 2020 — Eligible clinicians who participate in Medicare’s Quality Payment Program, including physicians and midlevel practitioners, can earn credit in the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) for participating in a COVID-19-related clinical trial and reporting clinical information, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Monday.

By attesting that they participated in a trial of a drug or biological product to treat COVID-19 and reported on the results, clinicians can earn half of the maximum score in the MIPS improvement activities performance category, which contributes 15% of the MIPS final score.

Clinicians can report their findings through a clinical data repository or a clinical data registry. Among the clinical data repositories they can use is Oracle’s COVID-19 Therapeutic Learning System, CMS said. Oracle donated this software to the US government so that clinicians and patients can document the effectiveness of promising COVID-19 drug therapies.

The clinical trials could include those conducted under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health or other sponsors. These trials may range from “the traditional double-blind placebo-controlled trial to an adaptive or pragmatic design that flexes to workflow and clinical practice,” a CMS press release stated. 

“The best scientific and medical minds in the world are working night and day to find treatments to combat coronavirus,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in the news release. “But without solid data, their efforts are liable to run up against a brick wall.… Today’s action encourages clinicians to report data that will help us monitor the spread of the virus, find innovative medical solutions, and unleash scientific discovery as we seek to overcome this terrible disease.”

CMS’ announcement refers clinicians to ClinicalTrials.gov, the government’s listing of all planned and ongoing clinical studies. A total of 745 COVID-19 trials are described on the site. However, many of them are being conducted in other countries, and a large number are not recruiting patients yet. Only a few studies are up and running.

MIPS, a pay-for-performance program, bases its rewards and penalties on clinicians’ scores in four categories: quality, practice improvement, use of health information technology, and cost and resource use.

To date, most eligible clinicians have qualified for bonuses because of CMS’ low thresholds, as reported by Medscape Medical News. These bonuses have been very small, as they’re funded from the penalties of the relatively few clinicians who have scored poorly.It’s unclear whether such a paltry financial incentive will prompt many clinicians to participate in COVID-19 clinical trials, although some doctors may do so to help find an effective treatment. What is known is that most practices have been impacted financially by the coronavirus crisis and that medical associations are imploring Congress to provide direct financial aid to physicians.

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