By Bill Prentice
Heading into 2021, COVID-19 continues to make headlines and the results of the 2020 elections are just beginning to become reality. People around the world are tossing out the crystal balls they used to predict the New Year in the past. They are hoping that with 2020 behind us, the coronavirus and other disruptions will disappear as well.
At the same time, following a familiar path, policy makers in Washington, D.C., and across the country continue to search for ways to make affordable, accessible, high-quality health care available everywhere. ASCA has a full agenda in place to support these efforts inside ASCs in the coming year.
As we did in 2020, ASCA will remain committed to being a timely and reliable resource on COVID-19. Whether the news of the day is about clinical developments, the equipment and resources needed to respond to patients affected by the virus, financial relief for health care providers or some other aspect of the national response to the vairus, ASCA will do everything it can to provide the kind of complete and accurate information needed to support appropriate and meaningful action within individual ASCs and the entire ASC community.
ASCA will also continue to advocate for wise policy decisions on behalf of ASCs and their patients for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we learned in 2020, without a strong, fully informed voice on behalf of ASCs and patients in need of the services ASCs provide, decisions and response planning at both the national and state levels could easily go astray. In 2020, ASCA was instrumental in heading off some well-intended but uninformed proposals that would have undermined the value of the care ASCs have been providing during this pandemic, and ASCA is committed to continuing to serve in that role in 2021.
At the same time, ASCA will continue to advocate for several changes in Medicare policy that will support patient access to ASCs. As I have indicated in this column previously, those that will be at the top of our list include:
- continued use of the same factor – currently the hospital market basket – to update both ASC and HOPD payments for inflation each year;
- enactment of appropriate payment rates for all device-intensive procedures;
- adoption of copay caps in ASCs that match those available in hospital outpatient departments (HOPD); and
- elimination of a budget neutrality adjustment Medicare uses now to determine ASC payments that disincentivizes volume from migrating to ASCs and contributes to a growing disparity in ASC and HOPD rates.
If adopted, each of these proposals would improve patient access to the many benefits ASCs provide and support the accessible, affordable, high-quality outpatient surgical care that patients and policy makers are seeking. Private insurers and their beneficiaries, whose plans are often built on Medicare’s model, also stand to benefit as these policies are adopted.
But ASCA’s plans related to COVID-19 and ASC information and advocacy are only one part of ASCA’s 2021 agenda. To help the health care professionals who work in ASCs be at their best while coping with the impact COVID-19, ASCA is releasing several new resources and retooling some popular educational programs.
Last November, putting a priority on the health and safety of all involved, ASCA announced that ASCA 2021 – our annual conference originally scheduled as an in-person event in Washington, D.C. – will be an entirely virtual event. Updated information on the conference is being added to ASCA’s website as available. You can learn more about that conference and all the resources described below on ASCA’s website, www.ascassociation.org.
With all the online programming that is available now, we have also redesigned our webinar series to help participants make certain they are investing their limited time wisely in the areas that interest them most. This year, for purchasers of our all-access pass, we are offering specialized tracks for materials managers, clinical directors, infection preventionists and administrators. Of course, participants do not have to hold those titles or fill those roles to attend any of the sessions and are not limited to participating in just one track. The tracks are a tool that help subscribers identify and access the programs that best address their needs.
ASCA has also introduced several additions to its Clinical & Operational Benchmarking Survey. The survey now includes optional specialty reporting tracks in total joint, complex spine and, new in 2021, ophthalmology procedures. For ASCs interested in meeting the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care’s Advanced Orthopaedic Certification requirements, the survey also qualifies as a nationally recognized specialty-specific data repository.
This year’s survey also comes with a new “Benchmarking Basics for ASCs” how-to guide that walks users through every step of the process and provides templates, real-life case studies and more that can help ASCs manage a successful quality assessment and performance improvement (QAPI) project. The new guide is available free to benchmarking survey subscribers only and cannot be purchased separately.
This new guide will be the focus of another event ASCA is offering for the first time this year: a virtual book club discussion. All subscribers to ASCA’s Clinical & Operational Benchmarking Survey are invited to register free to join interactive conversations with the e-book’s authors. Participants are encouraged to bring questions, share their own experiences and consult with their colleagues and the authors about how the process works and ways to use benchmarking effectively to enact meaningful and lasting improvements in their ASC.
To help ASCs make informed staffing and employee compensation decisions, ASCA is also conducting our popular Salary and Benefits Survey again this year. Every ASC can participate in this survey for free, and those that meet the reporting requirements receive access to free personalized reports that allow for data comparisons with other facilities.
Also this year, ASCA will be offering a new ASC infection prevention (IP) course that will provide valuable content for ASC infection preventionists and a new “Management Essentials for ASC Administrators” course. We expect the IP course to be helpful to those planning to take the Certified Ambulatory Infection Preventionist (CAIP) exam and the management course to be useful to new administrators as well as experienced administrators looking to refresh their knowledge and skills. That course should also be helpful to anyone preparing for the Certified Administrator Surgery Center (CASC) exam.
For our members, ASCA is also on track to continue offering ASC Focus magazine, our members-only online community ASCA Connect and the members-only episodes of the Advancing Surgical Care Podcast series we introduced in 2020. We will also provide more of the publicly available episodes of that podcast when the topic being discussed has broad appeal.
Health care providers across the board can expect 2021 to bring its own unique challenges. At ASCA, we are confident that ASCs will remain a popular choice for patients, physicians and insurers in the new year and beyond. I encourage everyone who wants to know more about ASCs to visit ASCA’s Advancing Surgical Care website, www.advancingsurgicalcare. It provides many useful tools, including an interactive map that allows users to find ASCs throughout the country.
I also encourage any ASC that is not already a member of ASCA to join now. You can get the information you need on ASCA’s website at www.ascassociation.org/membership or by contacting Mykal Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.