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Bigger Problems Ahead For Obamacare

Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP, MACE

Accountable Care Organization are supposed to be the organizations that reduce Obamacare’s healthcare costs.

Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) were supposed to be operational in 2012 throughout the United States.

ACOs are supposed to provide financial incentives to health care organizations in order to reduce costs and improve quality of medical care. There are too many defects in the ACOs’ infrastructure to improve the financial and medical outcomes.

At a conceptual level, the incentive for ACOs is to increase efficiency and avoid overuse and duplication of services, resources, and facilities. In this model, ACO members (physicians and hospital systems) would share the savings resulting from the coordination and integration of care.

Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are not designed to decrease the waste in the healthcare system.

Waste occurs because of:

1. Excessive administrative service expenses by the healthcare insurance industry that provides administrative services for private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid. A committee is writing the final regulations covering Medical Loss ratios for President Obama’s healthcare reform act. The insurance industry regulations are far from curative.

2. The excessive administrative waste in hospitals and hospital systems leading to outrageous nontransparent hospital fees.

3. The lack of patient responsibility in preventing the onset of chronic disease. The obesity epidemic is an example.

4. The lack of patient education to prevent the onset of complications of chronic diseases. Effective systems of chronic disease self- management must be developed.

5.The use of defensive medicine resulting in over testing. Defensive medicine can be reduced by effective malpractice reform.

ACOs are not a market-based system. They do not put patients at the center of their medical care or permit patients to choose their medical care.

The government assigns patients to certain ACOs. The government controls the healthcare dollars and is at the center of patients’ medical care decisions directly and indirectly.

Consumers/patients are the only stakeholders in the healthcare system that can demand that this waste be eliminated. “They with walk will their feet” if given the chance.

Keith Smith M.D. and the Surgery Center of Oklahoma have proven that consumers desire choice and making their own medical care decisions with the Surgery Center’s transparent prices and their light administrative costs.

Patients must control their healthcare dollars and be responsible for their care in order to Repair The Healthcare System.  Consumers/patients will make sure prices become competitive. Patients in control of their healthcare dollars will not allow duplication of services.

In order to truly Repair The Healthcare System a system of incentives for patients and physicians must be created.

 “In theory, ACOs provide financial incentives to health care organizations to reduce costs and improve quality. In reality, given the complexity of the existing system, ACOs will not only fail; they will most likely exacerbate the very problems they set out to fix.”  

ACOs shift the risk of patient care away from the healthcare insurance industry  to physicians and hospital systems.

Most physicians are reluctant to assume accountability for patient outcomes.  Physicians recognize that much of the outcome is directly under the patients’ behavior and adherence to recommended therapy.

ACOs remove the consumer/ patient from being responsible or accountable for their medical care. ACOs undermine any attempt to create a truly accountable healthcare system that can drive down costs.

There are also grave uncertainties and practical issues in distributing savings between the hospital system and physicians. There is a long history of hospital systems taking advantage of physicians’ skills and intellectual property.

Many physicians and hospital systems are concerned about the shifting of risk and the lack of control over this risk.

 “The Mayo Clinic says it will not be part of a critical piece of national health care reform under the government's proposed rules.”

“ The Mayo Clinic announced that the proposed regulations “conflict with the way it runs its Medicare operations.” Mayo treats about 400,000 Medicare patients a year. The bottom line is that Mayo figured out that they would assume too much risk, lose too much money and relinquish too much control over its processes to the federal government.”

ACOs are really HMOs on steroids. There is too much risk that neither physicians nor hospitals can control. Neither consumers or physicians nor hospital system liked HMOs.

 This same sentiment is reflected in statistics released the Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Obama administration are spinning these numbers the same way they are spinning the figures for Obamacare enrollment.

Chart 4: Accountable Care Organizations by State; Source: Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence

Aco by state-Chart-4

 California leads all states with 58 ACOs followed by Florida with 55 and Texas with 44.  ACOs are primarily local organizations, with 538 having facilities in only one state.


Chart 5: Accountable Care Organizations by Hospital Referral Region; Source: Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence

Aco by region-Chart-5

 The number of ACOs, again, is of secondary importance to the number of covered lives.  Nationally, approximately 6 percent of the population is estimated to be enrolled in an ACO.

Chart 6: Estimated Accountable Care Organization Covered Lives by State; Source: Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence

Aco covered lives-Chart-6

Chart 7: Estimated Accountable Care Organization Covered Lives by Hospital Referral Region; Source: Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence

Aco covered lives by region-Chart-7

President Obama and his administration must be living in some fantasy world. It does not matter what the Obama administration is saying adoption of ACOs by physician groups and hospital systems is poor.

The call for forming ACOs started in 2010. The government tried to stimulate the formation of ACOs with sizable grants. It has not worked very well.

Many of the formed ACOs are not functioning in a cost effective manner. In ACOs that are sharing cost saving with the government the fighting between the hospital systems and physicians is just beginning.

Patients in ACOs are starting to feel the dysfunction.

The delivery of medical care under Obamacare and the ACOs are in big trouble.

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

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