Accountable Care Organizations: The Case For Flexible Partnerships Between Health Plans And Providers
Under the Affordable Care Act, the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will guide a number of experimental programs in health care payment and delivery. Among the most ambitious of the reform models is the accountable care organization (ACO), which will offer providers economic rewards if they can reduce Medicare’s cost growth in their communities. However, the dismal history of provider-led attempts to manage costs suggests that this program is unlikely to accomplish its objectives. What’s more, if ACOs foster more market concentration among providers, they have the potential to shift costs onto private insurers. This paper proposes a more flexible payment model for providers and private insurers that would divide health care services into three categories: long-term, low-intensity primary care; unscheduled care, including unscheduled emergency services; and major clinical interventions that usually involve hospitalization or organized outpatient care. Each category of care would be paid for differently, with each containing different elements of financial risk for the providers. Health plans would then be encouraged to provide logistical and analytic support to providers in managing health costs in these categories.