Accountable Care Organizations

This article from the HealthCare Economist is about a year old but nicely introduces the topic of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).   Whether ACOs develop into a long term solution in improving the efficiency of delivering medicine or are added to the scrap pile of dead acronyms remains to be seen.


What are Accountable Care Organizations?

Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are the latest rage in the health policy world.  The question is, what are ACOs.  The Urban Institute’s Kelly Devers and Robert Berenson try to answer the following question: “Can Accountable Care Organizations Improve the Value of Health Care by Solving the Cost and Quality Quandaries?

The goal of ACOs is to pay providers in a way that encourages them to work together, to pay providers in a way that does not encourage supplier induced demand, and to create an organization that is rewarded for providing high quality care.  What kind of organizations are currently poised to evolve into ACOs. This chart evaluates the prospects.

One question is why doesn’t Medicare just use their current Medicare Advantage program to accomplish these goals.  In the Medicare  Advantage program, Medicare pays a lump sum to private insurers and holds them accountable for all the medical care the beneficiary needs.  However, there are three main differences between ACOs and HMOs.

  1. The “accountability” rests with the providers.  Providers or provider groups, rather than insurance companies, are evaluated on the quality and efficiency of care.
  2. Direct contracting with provider organizations without the reliance on a health plan intermediary.
  3. The ACOs allow for flexibility in the type of organization.  Some regions may prefer independent practice associations (IPAs) while others  may prefer a physician-hospital organization (PHO).

The physician-centered organization makes much sense to many policymakers because “the resources that flow from the decisions physicians make with patients account for a major portion of overall health care costs, regardless of where the care actually takes place.”


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