At least there's hope. Dealing with HCFA ranked at or near the top of persistent frustrations facing healthcare managers, but a new leadership team headed by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and former Federation of American Hospitals boss Thomas Scully has lit a fire under the plodding bureaucracy.
The dynamic duo already has changed the agency's name to the fuzzier Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and has guaranteed improved customer service for beneficiaries and healthcare providers. Their plans call for other major reforms designed to reduce regulatory snafus, enhance accountability, improve communication and encourage innovation.
The guys deserve your support, but hold the applause. Although the seeds of reform have been planted, it will take patience, political support and financial nurturing before many of the important changes take root. Scully's energy and commitment are resolute, yet he must overpower a culture lacking proper computer firepower, human resources, teamwork and sensitivity.
Now the real work begins. We suggest that the CMS concentrate on a handful of priorities, among them:
*Overhauling the regulatory process in an effort to better clarify some rules and eliminate others. Providers have a right to a reduction in cumbersome, duplicative paperwork and a more consistent interpretation of Medicare rules.
* Pushing for at least a 50% reduction in the number of Medicare intermediaries.
* Updating the software used to process claims with a special emphasis on improving the security and privacy of patient records.
* Offering more educational outreach and technical assistance to providers in an effort to boost compliance.
* Working in tandem with the Food and Drug Administration so that reimbursement decisions are made shortly after drugs and devices gain approval.
* Making changes in the Medicare cost report so that the information more accurately reflects how healthcare organizations deliver care.