Public Policy

Medicare's Patient-Centered Medical Homes Return Mixed Results


In late January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the early results of two multi-year innovation projects focused on the creation of patient-centered medical homes (PCMHs).

Although PCMH models have been lauded as a way to achieve CMS’ triple aim —better quality patient care and improved health at a lower cost—little evidence currently backs up this claim. The latest reports show that PCMH interventions hold promise, but the jury is still out.

“I think, two to three years from now, we will be in a totally different position, in terms of a sound evidence base for policy,” says Mark Friedberg, MD, MPP, a practicing general internist and senior natural scientist for the RAND Corporation. “We know these very large CMS demonstrations are just starting to trickle in with year one results.”

Both the Comprehensive Primary Care (CPC) Initiative and the Multi-payer Advanced Primary Care Practice (MAPCP) are large, multi-year CMS demonstrations launched in 2012 and 2011, respectively, and the reports cover just their first 12 months. Although different in numerous ways, both projects aim to create better coordinated care that will in turn lower hospital admissions and ED visits, reduce duplications, enhance patient health through prevention, improve chronic disease management, and move away from a fee-for-service approach. They are just two of many experiments supported by the 10-year, $10 billion CMS Innovation Center.

In its first 12 months, the CPC focused on improving the care of high-risk patients in four states plus three separate regions of the U.S. It served 345,000 Medicare beneficiaries and roughly 2.5 million patients overall among nearly 500 primary care practices identified as likely to achieve meaningful results.

The evaluation, performed by policy research firm Mathematica, found that CPC cut hospital admissions by 2% and saw a 3% reduction in ED visits relative to similar practices not participating in the initiative, contributing to an overall $168 savings per Medicare beneficiary. It generated more than $70,000 in additional revenue per median practice clinician.1

However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) paid practices $240 per patient to cover the costs of establishing the medical home, including hiring nurses, improving electronic health records, and setting up 24-hour call lines. Thus, the initiative failed to offset its costs. Even so, Mathematica called the findings “promising” and “more favorable” than expected for the first year of the initiative, though it advised caution in interpreting the findings at this stage.

If we start getting good results with patient-centered medical homes and more people go to the model, a relationship between the PCMH on the outpatient side and a cadre of people who know how to work the inpatient side is going to be critical to success.—Dr. Centor

The MAPCP involved primary care initiatives in eight states, encompassing 3,800 providers across 700 practices; it touched 400,000 Medicare beneficiaries in its first year (today, it serves practices in just six states). Private payers and Medicaid also took part, leading to an estimated savings of $4.2 million, according to the initiative’s evaluators, RTI International and The Urban Institute.2

The demonstration realized a reduction in fee-for-service Medicare growth in Vermont and Michigan, largely resulting from lower inpatient expenditures, but did little to reduce hospitalizations, readmissions, or ED visits. Data collection and utilization were recurring challenges.

Dr. Friedberg says these first reports are akin to seeing the first few ships of the armada break the horizon. Last year, he was first author of a Journal of the American Medical Association study of a three-year PCMH intervention in Pennsylvania, Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Chronic Care Initiative, which also showed mixed results.3 He currently is part of a team evaluating the CMS Federally Qualified Health Center Advanced Primary Care Practice Demonstration, which concluded last October.

Although he has not yet seen an evaluation of a PCMH intervention involving hospitalists, Dr. Friedberg says it would be interesting to see the results of a rigorously studied pilot that involves such an evaluation. A 2012 article in The Hospitalist highlighted one project in Wisconsin and laid out ways in which hospitalists could be involved in PCMH initiatives—among them, being part of hospital admissions decision making and maintaining open lines of communication.4 Leaders of that project declined to comment at this time.

“The patient-centered medical home really is an outpatient strategy more than it is an inpatient strategy,” says Robert Centor, MD, MACP, an academic hospitalist at the University of Alabama Huntsville and chair of the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians, yet he sees a role for hospitalists.

“If we start getting good results with patient-centered medical homes and more people go to the model, a relationship between the PCMH on the outpatient side and a cadre of people who know how to work the inpatient side is going to be critical to success,” Dr. Centor says.

Indeed, Dr. Friedberg says hospitalists’ involvement could be one of the “missing ingredients” that might contribute to the success of any given PCMH intervention, and he’s careful to emphasize there is no such thing as “the medical home.” Rather, there are “many medical homes,” he says.

Dr. Centor says hospitalists could serve as conduits between care inside the hospital and follow-up care, which could reduce length of stay for some patients and smooth the transition from discharge to primary care. A well-versed hospitalist with the PCMH might also assist in reducing repeat tests and procedures.

“I think it comes down to relationships more than anything else,” Dr. Centor says. “The challenge is, given all of the busyness of outpatient practice and inpatient care, how do we best communicate?”

Kelly April Tyrrell is a freelance writer in Madison, Wis.


  1. Mathematica Policy Research. Evaluation of the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative: first annual report. Reference number 40102.R14. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2015.
  2. RTI International. Evaluation of the multi-payer advanced primary care practice (MAPCP) demonstration: first annual report. RTI Project Number 0212790.005.001.001. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2015.
  3. Friedberg MW, Schneider EC, Rosenthal MB, Volpp KG, Werner RM. Association between participation in a multipayer medical home intervention and changes in quality, utilization, and costs of care. JAMA. 2014;311(8):815-825.
  4. Collins T. Patients should prepare for the patient-centered medical home. The Hospitalist. July 3, 2012. Available at: Accessed March 4, 2015.

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