32 HealthCare Systems Named Pioneer ACOs

December 21, 2011
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Today’s wake-up alert from The Washington Post

Today’s wake-up alert from The Washington Post

“The Obama administration Monday named 32 health care systems across the country as “Pioneer” ACOs. These will be the first places to test out the new payment model; they’ll provide a bit of a sneak peak at what it could mean for the rest of the country. In other words, we may soon see our first unicorns.

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Unicorn, or not it is interesting that they chose 30 health systems which are already business entities and well integrated health systems. They are also located in unique health care markets.

Jim Hinton, President and CEO of Presbyterian Health System (one of the lucky 30 chosen makes these remarks in the Washington Post article authored by Sarah Klif.

Jim Hinton: Health care has grown up in a fee-for-service system, and it’s also grown up with a system where the primary unit is an individual doctor taking care of an individual patient. At Presbyterian, we’ve been working on making care more integrated for 20 or so years now and have been able to do a lot by operating our own health plan..

 A lot of what [the Accountable Care Organization model] does is build a system of care where there’s a safety net and we can help advocate for the patient. We’re looking at how can we do more with nurses and other advance practice professionals. How can we use technology? How can we change the visit model so its not one patient with one doctor every 15 minutes?

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He offers some creative solutions for extending benefits such as home health care by up regulating it to a ‘home hospital’, reducing the cost of in patient hospitalization, but increasing the amount of home health care. To me this just seems to be cost shifting and would require major re-designs of accounting for the ACO.

All of these proposals are well hidden in the PPACA and the net effect is going to take a decade or more to be studied.

We’re experimenting with some group visits with doctors, and also another program where we hospitalize people in their homes. One good metaphor is thinking about it as if you were going to remodel your house. If you had a plumber, carpet-layer and someone putting down tiles not talking to each other, the house might not turn out very well. The idea is to anchor all the care in one place, where there’s a lot of coordination.

Mr Hinton summarizes it well for the rest of medicine.

“SK: As you mentioned earlier, your health system has been working on moving toward more integrated care for over 25 years now. What about the health care providers that haven’t been working on this stuff? How well do you think they’ll be able to use these new incentives?

JH: My colleagues who come from systems that have not owned managed care organizations are trying to assess how they can accelerate into this mindset. Most hospital systems today have some experience employing physicians but I think there are still two big barriers in going towards more integrated care. One is bringing an insurance perspective to populations, where you’re managing care and managing risk. The second is a cultural one. Many health care providers have fee-for-service as one of their core business models. It’s hard to get away from this notion that doing more health care means earning more money”

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I do not see ACOs catching fire in much of medicine. In fact I predict that smaller towns will continue on their current merry way. Some ACOs may very well have to contract out some professional services depending on the willingness of the physician community to forfeit freedom and independence. This will invoked the laws of secondary consequences with it’s attendant unforeseen challenges.

Physicians resistant to ACOs may very well  boycott a local ACO if given that alternative.

Nothing for sure is certain.