March 7, 2024

MIPS for Physical Therapists: A Guide for 2024

In today's ever-evolving healthcare landscape, physical therapists (PTs) and clinic owners face a dynamic environment where staying informed is paramount. A critical aspect of this awareness involves understanding the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). This program directly impacts Medicare reimbursements for various healthcare providers, including PTs.

This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of MIPS, providing PTs with a clear understanding of its purpose, key components, and its specific impact on physical therapy practices. We'll explore the core concept of what MIPS is, unpack how the program functions, and equip you with actionable strategies to optimize your MIPS scores for successful program participation.

featured image of MIPSWhat is MIPS in Healthcare?

MIPS stands for the Merit-based Incentive Payment System, a pivotal component of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015. It's a program that consolidates several legacy programs into a single system focused on quality, cost, improvement activities, and promoting interoperability. 

The MIPS Medicare connection is direct - it's a mechanism designed to incentivize healthcare providers, including physical therapists, for providing care that is high in quality and cost-efficient. The overarching goal of the MIPS program is to improve patient outcomes and transition towards a more sustainable, value-driven healthcare system.

Navigating the MIPS Categories 

MIPS evaluates providers across four performance categories: Quality, Cost, Improvement Activities (IA), and Promoting Interoperability (PI). Each category represents a facet of healthcare delivery that, when optimized, can significantly enhance a clinic's MIPS scores: 

  • Quality: This category measures the outcomes and processes of care delivery. Physical therapy clinics can choose relevant quality measures that reflect their commitment to patient recovery and satisfaction. 
  • Cost: Evaluating the cost of care is crucial for demonstrating efficiency. While more indirect for physical therapy practices, managing resource utilization effectively contributes positively to overall MIPS performance. 
  • Improvement Activities (IA): IAs focus on practice improvement that enhances patient engagement and care coordination. Physical therapists can showcase innovative approaches to patient education, rehabilitation programs, and community involvement. 
  • Promoting Interoperability (PI): This category emphasizes the use of certified electronic health record technology to improve patient care. For physical therapists, adopting technology for better patient documentation and communication is key.

Why is MIPS Crucial for PTs?

For physical therapy professionals, understanding and engaging with MIPS is not just a regulatory requirement but a strategic opportunity. MIPS scores directly influence Medicare reimbursements, rewarding practices that demonstrate excellence and efficiency in patient care. 

Moreover, effective MIPS scoring can highlight a clinic's commitment to quality and innovation, setting it apart in a competitive healthcare market. It's essential for physical therapists to grasp the nuances of MIPS scoring, leveraging it not only for financial benefit but also for the continuous improvement of patient care.

Key Components of MIPS: Performance Category Scores, Thresholds, and Measures

The MIPS program consists of several key components that PTs need to be familiar with to navigate the program effectively. Here's a breakdown of these essential elements:

MIPS Scoring

The MIPS scoring system intricately combines performance across its four categories to produce a final score. Here's a closer look: 

The Composite Score Calculation:

  • Quality (30%): Clinics must report on six measures, including one outcome measure, tailored to their specialty. 
  • Cost (30%): Automatically calculated by CMS based on Medicare claims, comparing the costs of services provided to patients. 
  • Improvement Activities (15%): Clinics report on activities from a CMS-approved list that improve clinical practice. 
  • Promoting Interoperability (25%): Assessed based on the use of certified electronic health record technology to improve patient care.  

Understanding Performance Thresholds 

The performance threshold is a pivotal concept in MIPS, acting as the benchmark that determines whether providers receive a positive, neutral, or negative payment adjustment. For the 2024 performance year, the threshold is set at 75 points. 

Clinics scoring above this threshold can expect a positive adjustment, while those falling below may face penalties. Achieving high performance in MIPS requires a strategic approach to each category, with a focus on areas where improvements can significantly impact the overall score.

Navigating Data Completeness and Reporting

Data completeness and accurate reporting are critical for success in MIPS. CMS requires a certain level of data completeness to ensure the reliability and validity of the information used to calculate MIPS scores. 

For the 2024 performance period, the data completeness threshold is set at 75%, meaning that providers must report on at least 75% of their applicable patient visits or cases for each measure. Navigating this aspect involves: 

  • Selecting Relevant Measures: Choose measures that align closely with your practice's strengths and patient population. 
  • Leveraging Technology: Utilize MIPS-compatible software that can aid in collecting, analyzing, and reporting data efficiently. 
  • Continuous Monitoring: Regularly review performance data to identify areas for improvement and ensure that reporting thresholds are met.

Performance Measures

Each category within MIPS encompasses a set of specific performance measures. These measures act as yardsticks to assess your performance in various aspects of care delivery. PTs need to report data on these measures to determine their MIPS scores. The specific measures applicable to your practice will depend on factors like your practice setting (outpatient clinic, hospital-based PT department, etc.) and the patient population you serve (e.g., geriatric patients, athletes, individuals with neurological conditions).


Image of MIPS

How Do I Know If I'm Required to Participate in MIPS?

Determining whether you need to participate in the MIPS involves understanding the eligibility criteria set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). MIPS is part of the Quality Payment Program (QPP), which aims to improve Medicare by helping you focus on care quality and the one thing that matters most — making patients healthier. Whether or not you need to participate in MIPS depends on several factors related to your practice and your Medicare billing. Here are the key considerations:

1. Eligibility Criteria

You're considered eligible for MIPS if you:

  • Are a healthcare provider type that is included in the MIPS program. Eligible clinician types typically include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and groups that include such professionals.
  • Bill more than $90,000 in Medicare Part B allowed charges per year.
  • Provide care to more than 200 Medicare patients per year.
  • Provide more than 200 covered professional services under the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS).

These criteria aim to include clinicians who have a significant interaction with Medicare patients and therefore have a substantial impact on the quality and cost of care provided to this population.

2. Exclusions

Certain clinicians are automatically excluded from MIPS, including:

  • Clinicians in their first year of Medicare Part B participation.
  • Clinicians that meet the low-volume threshold criteria (billing less than $90,000 in Medicare Part B allowed charges per year, seeing fewer than 200 Medicare patients per year, or providing fewer than 200 covered professional services to Medicare patients).
  • Those significantly participating in Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs), as these participants are subject to the payment adjustments via the APM track instead of MIPS.

3. Voluntary Participation

Even if you do not meet the eligibility criteria for mandatory participation, you may choose to participate in MIPS voluntarily. Voluntary participation allows you to report data to MIPS and receive feedback on your performance without being subject to payment adjustments.

How to Check Your Status

CMS provides resources to check your MIPS participation status:

  • QPP Participation Status Tool: You can use this online tool by entering your National Provider Identifier (NPI) to see if you're required to participate in MIPS for the current performance year. The tool is updated periodically to reflect changes in eligibility and special status that might affect your participation requirements and scoring.
  • Contact the QPP Help Desk: If you have questions or need clarification about your participation status, the QPP help desk can provide personalized assistance.

Note: It's important to verify your MIPS eligibility each year, as changes in your practice or the program's criteria can affect your status. Keeping informed about the QPP and MIPS requirements ensures you comply with Medicare's quality reporting and can benefit from potential incentives for high-quality, efficient patient care.

How MIPS Payment Cycles Work

The MIPS payment cycle is part of the broader Quality Payment Program (QPP) established by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). MIPS adjusts Medicare payments to providers based on their performance in various categories. Understanding the MIPS payment cycle is crucial for healthcare providers as it directly impacts their Medicare reimbursements.

MIPS Payment Cycle Overview

The MIPS payment cycle operates on a two-year lag between the performance year and the payment year. Here's how it works:

  • Performance Year: This is the year in which eligible clinicians or groups report data to MIPS across the four performance categories: Quality, Cost, Improvement Activities, and Promoting Interoperability. The performance across these categories generates a MIPS final score for each participant. 
  • Feedback Period: After submitting data for the performance year, CMS processes this information and releases feedback reports to participants. These reports detail the clinicians' or groups' performance scores and provide an estimate of the payment adjustment they can expect. 
  • Payment Year: The payment adjustments calculated based on the performance year are applied two years later. For example, MIPS performance data submitted for the 2023 performance year will affect Medicare Part B payments in 2025.

Key Dates and Phases

  • Data Submission: Participants must submit their performance data in the first quarter following the performance year. For instance, for the 2023 performance year, data submission occurs between January 1 and March 31, 2024. 
  • Performance Feedback: CMS typically releases initial performance feedback by mid-year following the data submission. Participants can review their scores and, if necessary, submit a request for a targeted review if they believe there are errors in their payment adjustment calculation. 
  • Payment Adjustments: The payment adjustments take effect on January 1st of the payment year and apply to Medicare Part B payments for services rendered throughout that year. These adjustments can be positive, negative, or neutral, depending on the MIPS final score relative to the performance threshold set by CMS.


MIPS in healthcare


Demystifying MIPS Scoring: How Your Performance is Measured and Rewarded

MIPS scores are calculated based on your performance in each of the four MIPS categories (Quality, Cost, Promoting Interoperability, and Improvement Activities, though not scored in 2024). These scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better performance in that specific category. Here's a deeper dive into the scoring process:

Measure Selection

You, as a PT or your designated team, have the autonomy to choose from a selection of MIPS measures for each category. This selection process allows you to align the chosen measures with your practice's unique strengths and the specific patient population you serve. For instance, a PT specializing in sports rehabilitation might prioritize measures focused on functional improvement and return-to-play rates, while a PT treating geriatric patients might select measures that assess balance, gait, and fall prevention.

Data Submission

Once you've selected the MIPS measures most relevant to your practice, the next crucial step is data submission. This involves reporting data on the chosen measures through various designated channels. Often, physical therapy software solutions offer functionalities that streamline data collection and submission directly from your EHR system, saving you time and minimizing the risk of errors.

Performance Feedback

After submitting your data, you'll receive MIPS scores reflecting your performance in each category and your overall program score. These scores provide valuable feedback on how your practice is performing compared to national benchmarks and other PTs participating in MIPS.

Payment Adjustments

Based on your MIPS scores, CMS may adjust your Medicare reimbursement rates for the following payment year. Higher scores typically translate into positive payment adjustments, meaning you receive an incentive payment on top of your base Medicare reimbursement rate. Conversely, lower scores can result in negative payment adjustments, leading to a reduction in your Medicare reimbursements.

Remember: Understanding the MIPS scoring process is crucial for PTs as it directly impacts their financial bottom line. By strategically selecting MIPS measures aligned with your practice and implementing efficient data collection and submission processes, PTs can optimize their MIPS scores and maximize their Medicare reimbursements.

How Soon Will I Receive My MIPS Score?

Following the performance year, CMS notifies MIPS participants of their scores in July. For example, Medicare will send you an email containing your breakdown of your MIPS score in July 2024, if you participated in MIPS in 2023. On January 1, 2024, the subsequent payment adjustment will take effect if applicable.

Navigating the Nuances of MIPS for Physical Therapists: Key Considerations and Strategies

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the MIPS program's core principles, scoring mechanisms, and potential impact on your physical therapy practice, let's delve deeper into the practical aspects of participation. Here are some key considerations and strategies to ensure successful engagement with MIPS:

1. Determining Your MIPS Eligibility

Not all PTs are mandated to participate in MIPS. Eligibility is determined by various factors, including:

  • Practice Size: Generally, practices with fewer than 15 clinicians are exempt from mandatory participation. However, opting-in can still be beneficial for these smaller practices.
  • Patient Mix: The percentage of your patients covered by Medicare also plays a role. If a significant portion of your patients rely on Medicare for coverage, participating in MIPS is likely advantageous.
  • Billing Structure: The way you bill Medicare also influences eligibility. If you primarily utilize evaluation and management (E/M) codes for billing, you might be exempt. However, if you bill using specific PT codes, participation becomes mandatory.

It's crucial to verify your MIPS eligibility with CMS using their online tools or consulting with a healthcare professional specializing in MIPS regulations. This ensures you understand your program obligations and avoid potential penalties for non-compliance.

2. Exploring MIPS Participation Options

Once you've established your eligibility, you can choose how to participate in MIPS. Here are the two primary options:

  • Individual Participation: You can choose to report data and manage your MIPS participation independently. This option requires close attention to program updates, measure selection, and data submission deadlines.
  • Joining a Group: You can participate in MIPS as part of a group, such as a professional association, accountable care organization (ACO), or other qualified provider group. This approach can offer benefits like shared resources, streamlined reporting processes, and potentially lower administrative burdens.

Carefully evaluate your practice's resources, comfort level with program complexities, and access to support networks when deciding between individual or group participation in MIPS.

3. Mastering MIPS Reporting Requirements

Understanding the specific reporting requirements for chosen MIPS measures is essential. This involves:

  • Familiarizing yourself with data collection methods: Different measures might require data collection from various sources like your EHR system, patient assessments, or claims data.
  • Understanding submission deadlines: Timely submission of data is crucial to avoid penalties and ensure accurate MIPS score calculation.
  • Being aware of potential penalties for non-compliance: Failing to submit data or meet program requirements can result in significant financial penalties that can negatively impact your practice's revenue.

Consulting with a MIPS specialist or utilizing resources from professional organizations like the APTA can be valuable in navigating the intricacies of reporting requirements and ensuring compliance.

4. Strategies for Optimizing Your MIPS Performance

Now that you're equipped with the knowledge and tools to navigate MIPS, here are some actionable strategies to help you excel in the program:

  • Stay informed: Regularly access resources from CMS and professional organizations like the APTA to stay updated on MIPS program changes, measure updates, and best practices.
  • Assemble a MIPS team: Consider forming a dedicated team within your practice to handle MIPS program tasks. This team can be responsible for monitoring program updates, selecting measures, coordinating data collection, and ensuring timely reporting.
  • Leverage your physical therapy software: Many physical therapy software solutions offer built-in MIPS functionality. These tools can streamline data collection, measure selection, and reporting processes, saving you valuable time and resources.
  • Focus on quality care: While MIPS performance impacts reimbursements, remember that the program's core objective is to improve patient care. Prioritize delivering high-quality care to your patients, and the positive outcomes will naturally translate into better MIPS scores.
  • Seek expert guidance: Consider seeking assistance from consultants or healthcare professionals specializing in MIPS program participation. Their expertise can be invaluable in navigating the program's complexities and ensuring optimal performance.

By implementing these strategies and remaining proactive in your approach to MIPS, you can ensure successful program participation, maximize financial incentives, and contribute to the overall improvement of healthcare quality and patient outcomes in physical therapy.

Optimizing MIPS with Physical Therapy Software like PtEverywhere

Effectively navigating the intricacies of MIPS can be a time-consuming endeavor for physical therapists. Fortunately, innovative physical therapy software solutions like PtEverywhere can significantly streamline your MIPS journey. PtEverywhere offers a suite of features designed to simplify program participation and optimize your performance:

  • Automated Data Collection: PtEverywhere seamlessly integrates with your EHR system, automatically extracting relevant data for chosen MIPS measures, eliminating manual data entry and reducing errors.
  • Streamlined Measure Selection: PtEverywhere provides helpful features on selecting MIPS measures most relevant to your practice and patient population, ensuring efficient program participation.
  • Simplified Reporting: PtEverywhere facilitates effortless data submission to CMS through its intuitive interface, saving you valuable time and ensuring timely reporting.
  • Performance Tracking and Analytics: PtEverywhere offers insightful dashboards that track your MIPS performance in real-time, allowing you to monitor progress and identify areas for improvement.

By leveraging PtEverywhere's comprehensive functionalities, physical therapists can significantly reduce administrative burdens associated with MIPS, dedicate more time to patient care, and achieve optimal program performance.

Try it out with a free demo today!