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A Brief History of Accountable Care Organizations

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ACOs to the Rescue – Not!

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By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA CMP®

http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

According to the Health Dictionary Series of administrative terms; valuation expert and colleague Robert James Cimasi MHA, ASA, AVA CMP of www.HealthCapital.com; an ACO is a healthcare organization in which a set of providers, usually large physician groups and hospitals, are held accountable for the cost and quality of care delivered to a specific local population. ACOs aim to affect provider’s patient expenditures and outcomes by integrating clinical and administrative departments to coordinate care and share financial risk [personal communication]

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Enter the PP-ACA

Since their four-page introduction in the PP-ACA of 2010, ACOs have been implemented in both the Federal and commercial healthcare markets, with 32 Pioneer ACOs selected (on December 19, 2011), 116 Federal applications accepted (on April 10, 2012 and July 9, 2012), and at least 160 or more Commercial ACOs in existence today.

Federal Contracts

More recently, Donna Marbury writing in Medical Economics, revealed that Federal ACO contracts are established between an ACO and CMS, and are regulated under the CMS Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) Final Rule, published November 2, 2011.  ACOs participating in the MSSP are accountable for the health outcomes, represented by 33 quality metrics, and Medicare beneficiary expenditures of a prospectively assigned population of Medicare beneficiaries. If a Federal ACO achieves Medicare beneficiary expenditures below a CMS established benchmark (and meets quality targets), they are eligible to receive a portion of the achieved Medicare beneficiary expenditure savings, in the form of a shared savings payment.

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Commercial Contracts

Commercial ACO contracts are not limited by any specific legislation, only by the contract between the ACO and a commercial payer. In addition to shared savings models which may not be in effect for another 3-5 years, Commercial ACOs may incentivize lower costs and improved patient outcomes through reimbursement models that share risk between the payer and the providers, i.e., pay for performance compensation arrangements and/or partial to full capitation.

Although commercial ACOs experience a greater degree of flexibility in their structure and reimbursement, the principals for success for both Federal ACOs and Commercial ACOs are similar. And, nearly any healthcare enterprise can integrate and become an ACO, larger enterprises, may be best suited for ACO status.

Medicare Contracts

Assessment

Larger organizations are more able to accommodate the significant capital requirements of ACO development, implementation, and operation (e.g., healthcare information technology), and sustain the sufficient number of beneficiaries to have a significant impact on quality and cost metrics.

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How Using a ‘Scorecard’ Can Smooth Your Hospital’s Transition to a Population Health-Based Reimbursement Model

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Transforming Business and Operating Models

[By Russ Richmond MD]

Russ Richmond MDDr. Marcinko and ME-P,

The US healthcare system’s myriad of problems again seized the headlines recently with the release of an Institute of Medicine report, which found that 30 percent of healthcare spending in 2009 – around $750 billion – was wasted. Citing the “urgent need for a system-wide transformation,” the report blamed the lack of coordination at every point in the system for the massive amount of money wasted in healthcare each year.

One critical area in particular need of transformation is the business and operating model that drives healthcare in the US. There is broad-based agreement across the healthcare industry that the current fee-for-service model does not work, and needs to be changed. The sweeping health reform law enacted in 2010 included a range of more holistic, value-based payment structures that are now being referred to as “populatiobn health.”

Population health is an integrated care model that incentivizes the healthcare system to keep patients healthy, thus lowering costs and increasing quality. In this value-based healthcare approach, patient care is better coordinated and shared between different providers. Key population health models include:

  • Bundled/Episodic Payments – This is where provider groups are reimbursed based on an expected cost for a clinically defined episode of care.
  • Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – This new model ties provider reimbursement to quality and reduction in the total cost of care for a population of patients.

Both of these care approaches aim to reduce care utilization through prevention programs, case/disease management and integrated care coordination, including better information transfer across different providers. Equally important, they are focused on reducing the cost of treatment by managing physician misuse and overuse and driving volumes to lower cost settings of care.

The shift to coordinated care is rapidly picking up steam across the country. According to a recent American Hospital Association survey of hospital chief executives, some 98 percent of respondents agree that hospitals should investigate and implement population health management strategies. Anecdotally, the hospital leaders participating in the survey indicated that it is not “if” they will have to pursue these risk sharing strategies, but “when.”

Even with healthcare providers now realizing that migrating to a population health approach is inevitable, there is still significant confusion about the crucial details of implementing these models. Hospital managements are worried about being left behind in the headlong rush toward adoption of ACOs and other value-based reimbursement models. Against this backdrop, healthcare providers now confront a growing list of urgent questions:

  • Which of the emerging population health-based care models is right for our hospital?
  • How much risk is prudent for our hospital with these new reimbursement models?
  • Should we move to an ACO, or is that too big of a jump for our hospital?
  • How does our management team even start to plan effectively to make the shift to a prevention-focused care and reimbursement model? Where do we begin?
  • What is the optimal time-frame for making these changes?

Using a “Scorecard” to Assess Your Population Health Readiness

So, how do hospital leaders break through the confusion and uncertainty to put their institutions on a clear path toward a successful population health-based future?

An effective way for hospitals to manage this process is by using a “scorecard” based on industry benchmarks to assess their relative readiness for – or current performance in – adopting a value-based reimbursement model.

The scorecard contains metrics that quantify the financial and volume impact on a hospital when it transitions to a population health-based reimbursement model. These metrics can be grouped into a range of key categories – i.e., top 5% high-cost patients, non- urgent emergency department visits, avoidable admissions, readmissions, physician overuse, outpatient procedures performed in lower cost settings, and proportion of one-day inpatient procedures done as outpatient. Hospital managements can address each of these categories in order to reduce per-member, per-month costs of care.

For example, new risk-sharing models have created more impetus for physicians and health systems to work together to prevent avoidable admissions. In 2011 alone, potentially avoidable admissions accounted for 10-14 percent of total inpatient admissions for most hospitals. With the growing push to reduce avoidable admissions, an average 300-bed hospital could potentially lose $9.5 million in annual contribution, as they would no longer obtain volume/revenue from these avoidable hospitalizations. On the flip side, if a hospital doesn’t prevent avoidable hospitalizations, they would be penalized for these unnecessary visits.

The emerging population health landscape has also resulted in hospitals experiencing growing competition from lower cost settings such as Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs). Over the past decade, the number of ASC operating rooms has doubled. Historically, ASCs and hospitals shared in the growth of common procedures such as shoulder arthroscopy. But, with 60 percent of hospitals now within a 5 minutes drive from an ASC, and given the industry’s accelerating shift to population health models, ASC’s price advantage puts hospitals at a competitive disadvantage.

The scorecard gives hospital executives the ability to accurately assess the financial and volume impacts of population health-based reimbursement models to their institution. This is critical in identifying opportunities for improvement, setting priorities, and making key strategic and operational decisions that will help guide a hospital through periods of great change and uncertainty.

Population-Health

Key Principles for Implementing Population Health

Through our work helping hospitals to prepare for a coordinated care future through strategic assessment tools like scorecards, we have identified three key principles that help to drive a successful transition:

1. First, the entire organization needs to embrace change – To engineer a successful shift to one of the new risk sharing business models, your hospital’s management team – indeed the entire organization – will need to embrace change. The fact is, much of that change is already happening right now, so it makes sense to manage it in a way that works best for your hospital’s specific needs and culture. The scorecard process will help your senior management team to clarify goals, assumptions and priorities around where the hospital needs to go, and how best to get there, in the population health future.

2. Plan for “evolutionary” change – Moving to a new value-based health system need not involve a wrenching “revolution” for your hospital. Indeed, jumping headfirst into the unknown is a recipe for disaster for most providers. Taking well planned, incremental steps is usually the best and least disruptive way to evolve to a fundamentally different reimbursement and care model like population health. For example, some hospitals are starting with their own employee populations to experiment with ACO-like care models.

3. Learn to love data – It’s an article of faith in management that you can’t improve it if you can’t measure it. At the core of the population health scorecard assessment approach is the imperative to collect the right data, analyze them, and then continually measure your actions and results as your hospital travels along the population health journey. Data are essential for effective decision making, and also for implementing a new risk sharing reimbursement model at your institution.

Implementing the fundamental changes necessary to meet the historic challenges now confronting healthcare providers has been compared to swapping out the engines in a jet plane – while it is still airborne! As daunting as that metaphor sounds, hospitals can successfully evolve to the population health-based future if they take the right steps to plan for the changes and implement them in a methodical, data-driven fashion.

Careful planning and practical assessment tools like the scorecard help hospital leaders make smarter strategic decisions around value-based healthcare.

About the Author

Dr. Russ Richmond is the CEO of Objective Health, part of the global McKinsey healthcare practice, which serves hundreds of public- and private-sector organizations worldwide. He is passionate about the use of data to manage health and to improve healthcare performance. Dr. Richmond holds an MD from the University of Cincinnati and a BS in Biology from the University of Michigan.

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Take the Accountable Care Organization 2013 e-Poll

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TAKE THE POLL

www.MCOL.com and Accountable Care News are conducting the 2013 Accountable Care e-Poll. Please respond by 5 PM Pacific, Friday December 13th, 2013. Results will be emailed to participating respondents upon request.

e-Poll

You can take the e-poll by going to: http://aco2013.questionpro.com/
The e-poll asks the following questions:

  1.  Please indicate your perspective:
  2. Is your organization involved with ACOs- including development, operation, or contracting arrangements?
  3. When would you estimate ACOs would have a material impact in your marketplace:
  4. If ACO Medicare pilots are not ultimately successful, will that cause commercial and Medicaid ACO arrangements to generally fail as well?
  5. What will be the impact of the newly enrolled individuals coming into the system as a result of Medicaid expansion and the health insurance exchanges?
  6. How confident are you that ACOs will actually generate the necessary savings?
  7. Will bundled payments prove to be a more effective delivery and payment reform model than ACOs?

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