After a few rough patches, public and private efforts to establish accountable care organizations (ACOs) are gaining speed.
Explore this issue:April 2013
Since 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has initiated or expanded several demonstration projects aimed at improving patient outcomes and containing costs by encouraging provider groups to assume shared responsibility for a defined pool of patients. Prominent medical organizations panned an initial draft of a CMS project called the Shared Savings Program, but the agency won over most critics with a well-received final version of the rules that provided more incentives for groups to form their own accountable care organizations. Last fall’s presidential election provided further clarity about the future of health care reform, and medical groups around the country are now readily jumping on the ACO bandwagon.
Few medical groups have enough data to suggest whether their varied approaches to managing patient populations will lead to better quality care that’s also more affordable, and even the precise definition of an ACO remains a moving target. But industry analysts say they’re surprised and encouraged by the speed with which the movement has taken flight, the breadth of models being investigated, the strong engagement of the private sector and a spreading sense of cautious optimism.