Does anything matter more to your de novo ASC’s long term operational success than reimbursement rates and volume? Yes! While both reimbursement and volume are important, buying yourself the time required to secure credentialing, carefully negotiate reimbursement rates, and execute contracts with your key commercial payers is integral to your new facility’s success. They say, “Time is money.” In this scenario, that translates into securing adequate capital to cover operating costs while you accomplish crucial contracting tasks on behalf of your ASC.
Assessing Your Needs
Consider the following when assessing the cash reserves, line of credit, and time your de novo ASC will need during the payer contracting ramp-up stage of your development project.
Credentialing for the newly developed ASC will take time. Credentialing requirements vary by payer. Some payers may require your new facility to receive approval from Medicare of its enrollment application prior to accepting your ASC’s credentialing application. To complete Medicare’s enrollment application, your ASC must perform several “test” cases. The current requirement is 10 cases. These cases will involve coverage from insurers other than Medicare. It not only takes time to perform these cases, it also takes time to select them from your surgeons’ patient pool of cash pay, workers’ compensation, auto, or charity cases that are readily available for surgical care shortly after your ASC opens. Completing this portion of the process can take several days to several weeks.
Some payers may require your ASC to be certified by Medicare and/or accredited by one of the CMS-approved accreditation organizations prior to completing credentialing. Once your new ASC’s Medicare enrollment application is approved, your facility will be placed on Medicare’s unannounced survey calendar. This means a surveyor may show-up anytime in a 90-day window for the on-site certification survey. Then, once the certification survey is finished, it may take several more weeks for the parties to exchange and/or process documentation before Medicare issues your certification letter. The certification letter provides your ASC with its Medicare number and Provider Transaction Access Number (PTAN). This portion of the process can take several months and must be accounted for in your project timeline.
Finally, once your ASC meets all the credentialing documentation requirements mandated by payers, it may take several more weeks for their credentialing committees to review and approve your credentialing application. Even if all goes well with credentialing, contracts cannot be executed before reimbursement is negotiated and each payer loads each agreement into its claims processing system.
Negotiating reimbursement rates take time. It will take time to obtain optimal reimbursement – or rates that are close to what you need – because payers often attempt to pay new ASCs lower than existing ASCs. This may be because payers view new ASCs as low hanging fruit on the cost-savings tree. Payers see an opportunity to save money by proposing lower reimbursement which, unfortunately, is quickly accepted by some new cash hungry ASCs.
From a short-term perspective, it may appear to make sense for a new ASC to accept the proposed low rates to secure payer contracts which then allows them to quickly start seeing commercial patients. However, in the grand scheme of things, the ASC is not solving a problem – it’s just delaying a problem. Such a situation gives rise to artificially setting market rates which takes additional time and effort to resolve during subsequent renegotiations.
It takes time and effort to secure reasonable reimbursement. It may take your new ASC a few to several months to negotiate agreeable reimbursement and contract terms with all its major payers. While some negotiation efforts can begin before the facility opens, most payers will not take new ASCs seriously until they open their doors. Maybe that’s because, until your doors are open, an opportunity cost to the payer and its members does not exist.
Waiting for payers to load the contracts you negotiate takes time. It generally takes 30-45 days, depending on the payer and the time of year, but occasionally it can take well over two-months. Oftentimes, the only thing your ASC can do during this stage is hurry up and wait. Therefore, the time spent in this portion of the process must be accounted for as well.
Having access to adequate capital to meet your ASC’s operating costs for 6-12 months after you open may be necessary to buy the time you need to secure your payer contracts. This is an important consideration when selecting a lender and applying for a line of credit for your de novo ASC.
No one can say exactly how long it will take. However, you should be financially prepared to spend a significant amount of time in the payer contracting ramp-up period. There is no way to get around this often-lengthy time investment, but laying the proper reimbursement foundation is a key component of your de novo ASC’s long-term success.
Dan Connolly, VP of Payer Relations & Contracting