If implemented successfully, accountable care organizations (ACOs) have the ability to achieve better care, better population health, and lower costs, according to a new report released by the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System. Implementing ACOs effectively will be vital to their success and, to that end, the Commission report also includes 10 recommendations for effective implementation, focusing on the design, payment and functioning of ACOs. An accompanying Commonwealth Fund perspective contains an analysis of how the proposed rules for the new Medicare Shared Savings Program for ACOs issued recently by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) align with these recommendations.
The Affordable Care Act establishes ACOs as a new category of provider within the Medicare program, creating the potential of paying for care in new ways that reward clinicians for improved patient care while reducing health care costs on a broad scale. Interest in establishing ACOs is also responsive to the public's call for better coordinated health care -- in a recent Commonwealth Fund survey nine of 10 people reported that it was important to them to have one place or physician responsible for their primary care, and coordinating care with other providers.
The Commission report, High Performance Accountable Care: Building on Success and Learning From Experience, presents the rationale for ACOs, based on research demonstrating that better organized care systems provide higher quality, lower cost care, and describes several models that might be considered in developing ACOs, including primary care medical home fees, bundled acute case rates and global fees. These models, and variants of them, could be used to move toward a more organized and effective health system.
"A number of health care providers and systems across the country are already developing accountable, coordinated care models, and implementing new payment models that reward better care. We have seen the potential they have to improve quality and lower costs," said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. "The Affordable Care Act provides the opportunity to replicate what we know is working in accountable care, and to give patients what they want and need -- well-coordinated, high-quality, affordable health care."
The Commission's recommendations focus on core strategies to ensure successful implementation and spread of ACOs that are accountable for care, outcome, and costs:
An accompanying perspective piece from Commonwealth Fund researchers Mark A. Zezza and Stuart Guterman reviews the rules CMS recently released for ACOs and uses the Commission's framework to identify issues for CMS to consider in finalizing the rules. Zezza and Guterman recommend that CMS:
"The rules set forth by CMS are a needed first step towards implementing ACOs in a way that will encourage accountable care, improve health care quality, and reduce health care costs," said Stuart Guterman, Commonwealth Fund Vice President for Payment and System Reform. "But, in order to achieve the level of success we need, the rules and the implementation process need to enable both CMS and health care providers to operate differently than has been the case in the past."
The Commission's report is intended to offer information and guidance not only to CMS but also to providers, other payers, and patients who will be forming and interacting with ACOs. The report can be found at http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Content/Publications/Fund-Report/2011/Apr/High-Performance-Accountable-Care.apsx.
The perspective piece, Achieving Accountable Care: Are We On The Right Track?, can be found at http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Content/Publications/Perspectives-on-Health-Reform-Briefs/2011/Apr/Accountable-Care.aspx.
The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation supporting independent research on health policy reform and a high performance health system.
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