Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Majority of Medicare ACO Participants Appear to Have Lost Money in 2014

There's no other way to put it.

Like many wonks, the Population Health Blog glommed onto this recent CMS report report on the 2014 performance of the Pioneer and Medicare Shared Savings Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). 

While there's some quality reporting data, the PHB decided to focus on the economics.

It ain't pretty.

Briefly, as the PHB understands it:

The 20 Pioneer and 333 Medicare Shared Savings Accountable Care Organizations generated a total of $411 million in savings.

Among the Pioneer participants:

15 out of 20 generated savings.  Only 11 of the 15 earned enough savings to trigger a payment from CMS that totaled $82 million.  The PHB calculates that's an average payment of approximately $7.5 million for each ACO. 

Three of the Pioneer ACOs had to provide clawbacks to CMS of $9 million, or an average $3 million each.

Of the 333 Medicare Shared Savings participants:

92 out of 333 saved $806 million in health care costs.  They received checks totaling $341 million.  The PHB calculates that's a payment of $3.7 million per ACO. 

Another 89 of the Medicare Shared Savings reduced costs, but not enough to trigger a payment from CMS.  That also means that the rest of these ACOs didn't even reduce costs.

The PHB's conclusions:

ACOs in the Pioneer program have about a 50% chance of getting some money back.  Assuming that there are from $2 million to $7 million per year in program support costs - in addition to the all of the foregone billable services - it's not clear to the PHB that the business model is sustainable (for example) for many of the Pioneer participants.  To add downside-risk insult to injury, there's a 15% chance a Pioneer ACO would have to pay Medicare.

ACOs in the Shared Savings program have a 75% chance that they won't be able to generate enough savings to cover the lost of income from fewer billable service or their program costs.

That's a majority of the participating ACOs.

Admittedly, there are several advantages to ACOs.  They 1) are an answer to the threat of rising health care costs, 2) are a laboratory for bundled payments, 3) promote care coordination and 4) are linked to medical homes.

But that's all for naught if the majority of the program participants are losing money in a massive exercise in risk transfer involving hundreds of millions of Medicare dollars.

This is health reform?


Coda: The PHB can't help noting that the title of the CMS report is "Medicare ACOs Provide Improved Care While Slowing Cost Growth in 2014."   That may be technically true, but that title is more about spin than about the science. The findings haven't been submitted to the scrutiny of peer-review, and until it is, the PHB won't really know what to believe.

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