Stanley Feld M.D., FACP, MACE Menu


ACOs Are Failing

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE

A major component of Obamacare is the development of functioning Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). The theoretically the ACO concept is good. The practical execution of ACOs is very difficult.

The way the bureaucrats in the government wrote the rules and regulations for executing ACOs make them almost impossible to execute.

The inevitable failure of ACOs was further guaranteed by the complicated reimbursement rules created by Medicare’s bureaucrats.

The goal was to create integrated health care systems that would efficiently deliver quality medical care at a lower cost.

ACOs are one part of this Administration’s vision for improving the coordination and integration of care received by Medicare beneficiaries.

ACOs are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers that work together to give Medicare beneficiaries in Original Medicare (fee-for-service) high quality, coordinated care.

ACOs can share in any savings they generate for Medicare, if they meet specified quality targets.”

Defining quality care is a problem. Another problem is designing systems to execute quality care. To date no one has defined quality medical care correctly.

I said from the onset of the development of ACO’s that the project would fail. Many experts criticized me. They called me  a dinosaur. They said I did not understand systems of medical care.

These people did not know that I was the guy that wrote the AACE guidelines for A System of Intensive Self-Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.

The way the Obama administration has designed ACOs, they are in reality HMOs on steroids.

They shift the responsibility of the cost of medical care to physicians and not the government.

In reality the cost of quality medical care should be the patient’s responsibility. Patients should be responsible for their care and their health care dollars.

I cannot understand why physicians do not protest.

I am a big believer in systems thinking. However, it has to be a system that is well thought out and well constructed. ACOs are neither.

It is clear to me that the bureaucrats do not know anything about medical practices or hospital politics.

The Obama administration originally picked 30 healthcare systems to be ACO Pioneers. They were called Pioneer Project Goups. Nineteen of the original Pioneer Groups remain.

The Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic were included in the original group of healthcare systems. These clinics were considered the most integrated health care clinics in the country.

The Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic turned down the Obama administration’s offer. They said they were happy with their system of care. The Mayo Clinic said they would not participate because they knew they would lose money participating in the ACO project.

I have written extensively on the reasons the ACOs would fail. I invite you to read or re-read these articles so as not to be puzzled by the upcoming outcomes of failures.

“Three out of four Medicare accountable care organizations did not slow health spending enough to earn bonuses last year.”

 In 2014 there were 353 accountable care organizations approved by Obamacare.  There are potentially 2700 hospital systems eligible to develop ACOs. The 353 accountable care organizations represent only 13% facilities available to participation rate.

The hospital systems not participating either fully understood why they could not form an effective or efficient ACO with the physicians on their staff or they did not have the money to execute the system and make a profit.

President Obama’s administration has bragged that the 353 participants represent a large number. The traditional mainstream media has parroted his assertion.

The mainstream media publishes this deception to the public as if It represents facts.  It is just one more deception by the Obama administration.

Private health insurance companys’ subsidiaries are in the process of setting up ACOs. They are trying to recruit physicians to shift the financial liability to physicians from insurance companies the same way unsuccessful HMO companies tried to shift financial liabilities onto physicians in the late eighties and early nineties.

The 353 participants include hospitals, physicians’ groups and healthcare insurance company ACOS. These groups have agreed to meet Obama administration targets for quality care and decreased costs.
In 2014 only 97 ACOs earned bonuses. The money these 97 ACOs saved was a total of $833 million. The 97 hospitals shared  $422 million dollars of that total.

Let us assume it was equally distributed among the 97 systems. Let us assume each of the 97 hospital systems has 1500 beds or 97 times 1500 for a total of 145,000 beds. Four hundred twenty two million dollars divided by 145,000 beds equals $2,910 dollars a year per bed or $7.91 dollars per bed per day.

A $7.91bonus per bed per day is an awful return on investment for the work and money necessary to develop an ACO.

What is more bizarre is there are only a few quality targets measured. Some of those measurements are not an accurate measurement of quality medical care.

It also means that the remaining 258 ACOs of the 353 ACOs either lost money because they did not reach targets or they came out even.

In 2013 hospital systems that lost money on certain targets had to pay the government back. The rule was dropped by the Obama administration after the bureaucracy figured out that this was not the way to promote the development of additional ACO’s.

I think I did the math correctly.

“Bonuses are awarded under formulas that account for hospital system performance on quality targets after the first year in the program.”

The results suggest that ACOs might not be the answers to bending the cost curve just as fudging the books is not an answer to delivering the quality healthcare improvement the Obama administration is seeking to have us believe.

The delivery of high quality coordinated care is very difficult to achieve in a government-regulated system of ACOs.

I believe the Obama administration’s plan for Obamacare has failed and has been very costly.

The government should develop a consumer driven healthcare system using my Ideal Medical Savings Account.

The opinions expressed in the blog “Repairing The Healthcare System” are, mine and mine alone

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If America continues to go in the direction Obamacare is going, the cost will bankrupt the country.

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