A look inside the feds' alternative payment lab

In an office complex in Baltimore, a diverse group of experts is conducting more than 60 experiments with one common goal--to reinvent Medicare payment models, and, by extension, the whole U.S. healthcare system.

The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation is designed to foster debate and discussion, complete with walls employees can write on, the Associated Press reports. Members include career Medicare employees as well as doctors, lawyers and health policy experts.

The federal government has set a goal of tying 30 percent of Medicare payments to alternative models by the end of 2016--an effort it says is already ahead of schedule. It wants to boost that number to 50 percent by 2018.

To that end, the center is conducting a slew of experiments, the AP reports. These include the joint replacement payment initiative, the newly announced Comprehensive Primary Care Plus program and tests of new Medicare Part B payment models. The Part B proposals, though, have been controversial, as some doctor and pharmacy groups say they prioritize cost-cutting over patients' access to life-saving treatments.

Mark McClellan, who was Medicare chief under President George W. Bush, tells the AP that if a Republican candidate takes the White House, he'd be smart to continue the program and involve more Medicare beneficiaries in its experiments.

"The authority to try out and then expand successful models of Medicare reform is a very useful capability," he says.

To learn more:
- here's the AP article

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