The growth of Accountable Care Organizations is, without doubt, one of the greatest changes that occurred in the past few years. Enhancing quality of care, mitigating healthcare costs, and improving healthcare consumer experience is something the Affordable Care Act is designed for.
A recent study revealed that beneficiaries are happier with their care after a year with Accountable Care, which is included as Medicare payment reform component of the Act. The latest study shows that after one year, there is much enhanced level of satisfaction with their health care and medical billing.
There are two main Accountable Care Organization programs: the Pioneer program, and the Medicare Shared Savings Program. These programs were formed with the Affordable Care Act in 2012. They have grown to a great extent at a faster rate and now serve over 5 million Medicare beneficiaries (estimated).
J. Michael McWilliams, associate professor of healthcare policy and medicine at HMS and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who is the lead author of the study says, “As payment moves away from fee-for-service toward incentives to limit healthcare spending, we found no evidence of deteriorating patient experiences in ACOs. In fact, ACOs achieved meaningful improvements for patients in some key areas.” He further added that the improvements found in patient experiences amount to initial progress in delivering high-quality patient-centered care.
The latest enhancements focused on specific areas where health care institutions, organizations, and medical practices can much easily change via the implementation of new scheduling referral or information systems, and medical billing technologies. The things that have really improved include timely access to health care, coordination, and medical billing and information accessibility. The biggest and the best improvement can be with patients having multiple illnesses.
However, there are some other concerns too. McWilliams mentioned that though these early findings are positive and encouraging, it could have been much better. Information from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that modest financial savings are achievable. This means Accountable Care Organizations could very well be useful way for realizing benefits for healthcare consumers while reducing spending and certain medical billing issues concerning patients.
“There is a pressing need for regulatory and legislative changes to strengthen ACO incentives, expand provider participation in new payment models and address potential downsides of provider integration, such as higher prices,” McWilliams highlighted. He further added that the study certainly suggests a positive and much promising start, but there is a long road ahead.