ACOs: We’re NOT There Yet

by Brian Klepper

On The Health Care Blog, veteran analyst Vince Kuraitis reviews a report from the consulting firm Oliver Wyman (OW), arguing that the trend toward reconfiguring health systems to deliver more accountable care is more widespread than any of us suspect.

“The healthcare world has only gotten serious about accountable care organizations in the past two years, but it is already clear that they are well positioned to provide a serious competitive threat to traditional fee-for-service medicine. In “The ACO Surprise,” our analysis finds that 25 to 31 million Americans already receive their care through ACOs-and roughly 45 percent of the population live in regions served by at least one ACO.”

OW provides a well-reasoned analysis and conclusions, but I’m skeptical. In discussions with health system executives around the country, I hear some movement toward change, but relatively few organizations are materially turning their operations in a different direction. The specter of policy change is looming, but it is still abstract. As I’ve described before, market forces are intensifying, but they’re mostly still scattered and immature.

Are Hospital Business Models on a Burning Platform? Not Yet, But It’s Inevitable.

From reading recent headlines, one might easily get the impression that hospitals are resistant — or at least ambivalent — in their pursuit and adoption of accountable care initiatives.

Are Hospitals Dragging their Feet on Accountable Care?

Commonwealth Fund: “only 13 percent of hospital respondents reported participating in an ACO or planning to participate within a year”

KPMG Survey: “(only) 27 percent of [health system] respondents said current business models were either not very or not at all sustainable over the next five years”

Health Affairs: “Medicare’s New Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program Is Likely To Have Only A Small Impact On Hospital Payments”

The Bigger Picture

Do hospitals today perceive their current business model on the metaphorical “burning platform” — when the status quo is no longer an alternative?

Hospitals…Thinking About Getting Into Health Insurance? 6 Reasons To Lie Down Until the Urge Goes Away.

Greg Masters reports on a recent Kaiser Health News article: Hospitals Look to Become Insurers, As Well as Providers of Care”.

This is the dumbest idea I’ve heard since “I’m going to invest all my money in Facebook’s IPO and get rich!”

Here are six reasons why:

Medicare Announces 27 ACOs. A New Species?

I’m surprised and intrigued by Medicare’s announcement of 27 new Shared Savings model ACOs.

Surprised

I had been anticipating this announcement as a defining moment for Medicare’s thrust into accountable care. My expectations had been that we would see either:

Boom — a big splash of new Medicare shared savings ACOs announced, including big name hospitals and medical groups that were starting large scale ACOs, perhaps with hundreds of thousands of patients.

Bust — no one showed up at the party. Providers would have concluded that Medicare ACOs were too risky, bureaucratic, and high effort.

Intrigued

What we got is something in the middle:

Will Health Plans Want to Contract with ACOs? Maybe, Maybe Not.

On the Perficient Health IT blog, Christel Kellogg writes:

I am hearing that carriers are staying away from ACOs and are not planning on partnering.  What have you heard?

This is one of those blip-on-the-radar-screen comments that jarred my attention — and it raises very important questions about industry dynamics.

First, let me expand on the issue.  As I’ve written before, there are at least two broad categories of “accountable care initiatives”:

1) Formal Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) by which care providers contract with Medicare

2) Informal Accountable Care-Like (AC-Like) arrangements between care providers and commercial health plans.

The list of accountable care animals in the forest is likely to keep growing. For example, just this week Oregon announced details for CCOs (Coordinated Care Organizations) for Medicaid.

So how are different stakeholders likely to react to the opportunity of a formal ACO contracting with commercial health plans? Let’s look at this from a couple of different angles.

Leavitt ACO Report: Overstating or Understating Accountable Care Activity?

Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) have been likened to

a unicorn — a fantastic creature that is vested with mythical powers. But no one has actually seen one.

a camel — a horse designed by a committee, one that already has its nose in the tent

With this background, you can begin to appreciate the difficulty of conducting an accurate census of ACO animals in the wilderness.  Yet, this is exactly the task undertaken in the excellent Leavitt Partners report measuring ACO activity in the US.

As I will explain, the Leavitt report has the potential both to overestimate and underestimate ACO and accountable care-like activities. In my judgment, however, it’s far more likely to be understating just how much accountable care activity actually is going on.

Findings in the Leavitt Report

The Leavitt researchers “identified ACOs from news releases, media reports, trade groups, collaborations and interviews through the beginning of September 2011. Also included were entities that either self-identified as being an ACOs or specifically adopted the tenets of accountable care.”

The report counts 164 ACOs — 99 that are primarily sponsored by hospital systems, 38 by physician groups, and 27 by insurers.

Here’s how Leavitt summarized their results:

Employers Perceive that Health Plans Add Value to ACOs

A just released study from Aon Hewitt and Polakoff Boland — 2011 Employer Driven Accountable Care Organizations Survey Report — examines employer attitudes toward ACOs.  The report provides useful insights into an area that hasn’t yet received much attention.

A couple tables in particular caught my attention.

ACO

(click on the graphic to view a larger version)

Key findings in this table include:

Physician-Hospital Relationships: The Hospital Morphs from Revenue Center to Cost Center

by Vince Kuraitis JD, MBA and Jaan Sidorov MD, MHSA, FACP

In our introductory posting of this series, we noted that economic incentives previously aligning doctor-hospital interests were changing. This creates the potential for The 100 Year Shift – physicians awakening to possibilities for stronger partnerships with payers than with hospitals.

In this post, we will zero in on the changing economic position of hospitals and the effect this is having on physician-hospital relationships. We will examine the trend of hospital employment of physicians and point out challenges and tensions for the future. [This is a long post...so now might be the time to refill your coffee cup.]

Table of contents for The 100 Year Shift? Strategic Realignment among Physicians, Hospitals and Payers

  1. The 100 Year Shift? Introduction and Overview
  2. Payment Transformation: From Volume to Value
  3. Physician-Hospital Relationships: The Hospital Morphs from Revenue Center to Cost Center
  4. The Practice of Medicine: from Marcus Welby to ???

Payment Transformation: From Volume to Value

by Jaan Sidorov MD, MHSA, FACP and Vince Kuraitis JD, MBA

In our introductory posting, we suggested that a huge shift is underway in the health care industry.  Decades of hospital-physician cooperation are not only eroding, we suggest this trend could accelerate.  Instead of a natural clinical and economic affinity with hospitals, we foresee the potential for physicians forming a new dyad with insurer-buyers.

In this post, we will examine what we and many other commentators view as inevitable: the demise of volume-based payment systems and how the drive for greater value will cause physicians and insurers re-examine their normally antagonistic relationship.

Table of contents for The 100 Year Shift? Strategic Realignment among Physicians, Hospitals and Payers

  1. The 100 Year Shift? Introduction and Overview
  2. Payment Transformation: From Volume to Value
  3. Physician-Hospital Relationships: The Hospital Morphs from Revenue Center to Cost Center
  4. The Practice of Medicine: from Marcus Welby to ???

The Crucial Distinction Between “Accountable Care” and ACOs

AccountablecareWhile in Philadelphia earlier this week, my colleague Dr. David Nace presented me with a print copy of McKesson Relay Health’s newest whitepaper — Providing Accountability: Accountable Care Concepts for Providers.  I felt honored as he handed it to me and confided that it was one of only six copies in print.  I took time to read it carefully on the long flight home.

The whitepaper is a great overview of accountable care and ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations). It’s a quick and easily digestible read.

However, there is one key point articulated in the paper that I’d like to emphasize here:

accountable care is not synonymous with ACOs.