Seriously Testing The ACO Waters

Brian Klepper

Published April 2013 in Accountable Care News

BK 711If necessity is the mother of invention, then tentativeness and ambiguity are the parents of procrastination. In health care, fee-for-service remains the dominant paradigm, so the ACO movement, lacking almost any semblance of true financial risk, is far more bark than bite. What’s the point of health systems going to all the trouble – and there’s no question it will be an overwhelmingly complicated overhaul – required to move from volume to value if it isn’t a pressing concern? Or, as several health system CFOs have expressed it, “Why should we change what we do and take less money until we have to.” There is no immediate imperative.

But there are some strategic imperatives. Overall health care cost has continued to explode. Kaiser Family Foundation data show that, for more than a decade, health plan premiums have risen 4.5 times as fast as general inflation and more than 3.5 times workers earnings. A recent RAND calculation showed that $4 of every $5 of household income growth is now absorbed by health care. It doesn’t seem likely that much more revenue can be squeezed from group and individual purchasers. (Though many of us have been saying that for decades.)

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Following the Money

Brian Klepper

Posted 12/06/12 on Medscape Connect’s Care & Cost Blog

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.”

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The Economics of Being a Practicing Physician: Greater Frustration, Lower Income, More Defensive

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

Posted 4/26/12 on Health Populi

One-half of physicians believe they’re not fairly compensated for their work – in particular, those working in primary care. Only 11% of doctors considering themselves “rich.”Medscape’s 2012 Physician Compensation Report compiled data from over 24,000 U.S. physicians across 24 specialties and found the bulk of physicians to see themselves working harder and 1 in 4 making less money than last year.

This has led to growing frustration and worry, where some physicians are resenting the large pay gap between specialists and primary care. That frustration looks poised to increase with doctors concerned that accountable care will further eat into incomes, and increased regulation and administrative hassle “take the joy out of medicine,” as Medscape coined the feeling.

In 2011, pediatricians earned on average about one-half of what radiologists took home in pay: about $150K versus $315K. The top physician earners along with radiologists were cardiologists, urologists and orthopedic surgeons. The lowest-earners were pediatricians, internists and family medicine doctors. Still, while they are top-earners, orthopods’ and radiologists’ income declined an average of 10% between 2010 and 2011.

Physicians in single and multispecialty group practices, and those within healthcare organizations, earn higher incomes compared with colleagues in academia, outpatient clinics and solo practitioners.

If they had to do it all again, would physicians choose to be physicians? 54% would still pick medicine as a career…the other 46? Not so much…

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Economics is driving physician discontent in the United States. Not only are at least half of medical specialties seeing falling incomes, but the future potential for money looks dire in at least two respects: accountable care is seen by at least one-half of physicians as a cause for income to decline; and, regulations and paperwork eat further into profit margins for physician practices.

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Surveyed Physicians Are Gloomy About Health Care Reform

Patricia Salber

Posted 3/12/12 on The Doctor Weighs In

Recently, The Doctors Company (TDC), the country’s largest insurer of physician and surgeon medical liability, decided to survey doctors to determine what they are thinking and feeling about health reform.  The results are pretty gloomy.

To put this in context, it is important to understand a bit about how TDC conducted the survey.  First of all, the universe of doctors they reached out to were doctors insured by The Doctors Company.  That means large self-insured medical groups, such as those affiliated with Kaiser Permanente, were not included.  Nor were doctors whose insurance was provided by their employers or doctors using other insurance carriers.  This matters because if the TDC insured physicians are not representative of doctors as a whole, the results of this survey would not necessarily reflect the attitudes of all doctors.

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What’s the Difference Between ACOs and “AC-Like” Arrangements?

Vince Kuraitis

Posted 3/09/12 on the e-CareManagement Blog

A lot. AC-Like arrangements will be MUCH simpler to create and maintain.

The health care market is moving toward accountable care. There are at least two broad paths forward:

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

What are the differences between these routes? I see at least 5 factors at play:

  • Transaction costs
  • Timing
  • Incrementalism
  • Flexibility
  • Capital cost

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Medicare Providers Don’t Want Less Revenue

Roger Collier

Posted 2/9/12 on Health Care Reform Update

The Congressional Budget Office’s January issue brief on the failure of almost all of more than thirty Medicare demonstration projects to cut costs generated considerable discussion. Judging from the reactions of some health care policymakers, the CBO’s findings came as a surprise.

They shouldn’t have.

Aside from the fact that the results of virtually all of the demonstrations had previously been published, the failure to reduce Medicare spending is exactly what should have been expected.

Let’s take a look at the three payment models used by CMS for the demonstrations:

  1. Regular Medicare reimbursement plus a guaranteed no-risk fee or bonus for participating
  2. Regular Medicare reimbursement plus a fee or bonus dependent on performance
  3. Bundled payment for demonstration services

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A Thousand Dollars Says Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel Is Wrong About ACO’s Long Term Prospects

Jaan Sidorov

Posted 2/1/12 on the Disease Management Care Blog

Approximately 15 years ago, the Disease Management Care Blog was a speaker at a conference with an audience mostly made up of managed care leaders. It boldly argued the nation’s disease management vendors were going to help put the nation’s health insurers out of business by simultaneously assuming risk and lowering costs.

Hows that for chutzpah. The DMCB was never invited back, but not because it isn’t an outstanding conference speaker who deserves fat fees.

It was because it was utterly wrong.

And so is this online commentary on accountable care organizations (ACOs) courtesy of the The New York Times. In it, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel boldly predicts that by 2020, ACOs will drive health insurance companies out of business. They’ll do that by assuming full risk, dropping patient barriers to care, coordinating services, fostering communication, promoting health, banning fee-for-service, increasing efficiency, relying on evidence-based care, being locally responsive and competing against other ACOs on cost and quality

Dr Emanuel is being astonishingly overconfident for four reasons.

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