Policy Corner: ACA provides multiple pathways to develop and support ACOs


“ACO” is probably the most common acronym to come out of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). Over the last several months, much of the public dialogue has focused on the confusion surrounding the “ACO Proposed Rule.” And now there are three new ACO initiatives, which were announced in May by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

So, what’s the difference? And what does it mean for hospitalists?

The ACA provides multiple pathways to develop and support ACOs, or accountable-care organizations. The proposed rule released in March 2011 was for the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP). Through this program, healthcare providers can join together in ACOs to integrate and coordinate services in return for a share of any savings to the Medicare program. These ACOs will be rewarded for lowering growth in Medicare costs while meeting performance standards on quality of care and putting patients first.

Three other initiatives from the newly created Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation give providers a broad range of options and support, and reflect the varying needs of providers in embarking on delivery system reforms. They are:

  • Pioneer ACO Model: Provides a faster path for mature ACOs that already have begun coordinating care for patients. This model is estimated to save Medicare as much as $430 million over three years through better managing care for beneficiaries and eliminating duplication. It is designed to move away from the fee-for-service (FFS) payment model more quickly than its MSSP counterpart. In year three of the program, Pioneer ACOs that have shown savings over the first two years will be eligible to move to a population-based payment model. The MSSP version is based completely on FFS.
  • Advance Payment ACO Initiative: Would allow certain ACOs participating in the MSSP access to a portion of their shared savings up front, helping providers make the infrastructure and staff investments crucial to successful ACOs.
  • Accelerated Development Learning Sessions: These sessions will provide the executive leadership teams from existing or emerging ACO entities the opportunity to learn about essential ACO functions and ways to build capacity needed to achieve better care, better health, and lower costs through integrated care models. Three sessions will be offered in the fall: San Francisco in September, Philadelphia in October, and Atlanta in November. For more info, visit https://acoregister.rti.org.

For more information about ACOs, visit www.healthcare.gov.

How hospitalists will be impacted under the ACO model is largely up to the individual hospitalists. Hospitalists are uniquely positioned to lead the system-level changes and quality-improvement (QI) efforts that will be critical to ACO success, and will bring significant value to the ACO model due to the central role that many hospitalists play in promoting team-based care, care coordination, and improving transitions of care. All of these roles are critical to delivering higher-quality care more efficiently.

CMS has provided detailed information on the above programs via Healthcare.gov. SHM submitted comments on the Medicare Shared Savings Program and the Advance Payment ACO Initiative, which can be found in the Advocacy section of www.hospitalmedicine.org under “SHM Letters.” TH

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