The Medicare Shared Savings Program: Class of 2015

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

The clock is ticking and the CMS continues its community outreach via their series of National Provider Calls on the application process for ACOs interested in submitting for the Medicare Shared Savings Program.Medicare Shared Savings Program

The deadline for the class of 2015 is approaching with the next call scheduled for Tuesday, April 22nd 2014 from 1;30 – 3PM Eastern.

You can register for this call here.

Space is limited and demand for these calls often exceed available slots, so get your registration in early.

Meanwhile, the description of the program is as follows:

During this MLN Connects™ National Provider Call, CMS subject matter experts cover helpful tips on completing a successful application, including information on how to submit an acceptable ACO Participant List, Sample ACO Participant Agreement, Executed ACO Participant Agreements, and Governing Body Template for the Medicare Shared Savings Program application. A question and answer session follow the presentation.

The Shared Savings Program Application web page has important information, dates, and materials on the application process. Call participants are encouraged to review the application and other materials found on this web page prior to the call.

Target Audience

Potential 2015 ACO Applicants

Presentation

The presentation for this call will be posted at least one day in advance of the call on the MLN Connects™ National Provider Calls and Events web page. Select the call date and scroll to the “Call Materials” section to locate the slide presentation. A link to the audio recording and written transcript of this call will be posted under the “Calls Materials” section in approximately 2 weeks following the call.

Registration will close at 12:00 p.m. ET on the day of the call or when available space has been filled.

123 ACOs Join the Shared Savings Dance Card

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

CMS has announced another round of certified ACOs participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program effective for January 1, 2014. The complete list is available here.

One observation I’ll make is Universal American (UAM) seems to remain active in building a national footprint of managed ACO collaborations. Their risk sharing model was previously addressed here. Yet, all is not well in ‘dodge’ as Zack’s recently downgraded UAM to ‘strong sell.’ For the complete Zacks piece, see: ‘Universal American Slips to Strong Sell.’

Per their reasoning (and this doesn’t bode well for the UAM business model – at least yet). Earlier in the 90s there was a similar ‘roll up’ i.e, venture backed top line fueled growth by American Healthcare Services, Inc. (AHI) that seems somewhat of a similar glide-path – we shall see.

Why the Downgrade?

Universal American witnessed downward estimate revisions following weak third-quarter 2013 results, which included a negative surprise of 214.3%. Shares of this life-insurer lost nearly 5.2% since the company reported soft results on Nov 7 and given its expected negative earnings growth rates in the upcoming quarters, we feel it has more downside left.

Meanwhile, per the CMS press release on December 23rd, 2013, here are the details and preferred narrative on ACO growth:

More partnerships between doctors and hospitals strengthen coordinated care for Medicare beneficiaries  

123 New Accountable Care Organizations Join Program to Improve Care for  Medicare beneficiaries

Doctors, hospitals and other health care providers have formed 123 new Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Medicare, providing approximately 1.5 million more Medicare beneficiaries with access to high-quality coordinated care across the United States, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today.

CMS App ClippedDoctors, hospitals and health care providers establish ACOs in order to work together to provide higher-quality coordinated care to their patients, while helping to slow health care cost growth. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, more than 360 ACOs have been established, serving over 5.3 million Americans with Medicare.  Beneficiaries seeing health care providers in ACOs always have the freedom to choose doctors inside or outside of the ACO. ACOs share with Medicare any savings generated from lowering the growth in health care costs when they meet standards for high quality care.

“Accountable Care Organizations are delivering higher-quality care to Medicare beneficiaries and are using Medicare dollars more efficiently,” Secretary Sebelius said.   “This is a great example of the Affordable Care Act rewarding hospitals and doctors that work together to help our beneficiaries get the best possible care.”

“This program puts the control in the hands of physicians and allows them to take the lead in an innovative way to deliver the right care to the right patient at the right time,” said Kelly A. Conroy, executive director of the Palm Beach ACO and South Florida ACO.  “We are honored to be a Medicare Shared Savings Program Accountable Care Organization, and after 18 months in the program, can proudly say that we have seen measurable success.  We are so impressed with our participating physicians’ enthusiasm towards the cultural shift, and it demonstrates that physicians are primed for the future of medicine.”

The ACOs must meet quality standards to ensure that savings are achieved through improving care coordination and providing care that is appropriate, safe, and timely. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) evaluates ACO quality performance using 33 quality measures on patient and caregiver experience of care, care coordination and patient safety, appropriate use of preventive health services, and improved care for at-risk populations.

The new ACOs include a diverse cross-section of health care providers across the country, including providers delivering care in underserved areas. More than half of ACOs are physician-led organizations that serve fewer than 10,000 beneficiaries. Approximately 1 in 5 ACOs include community health centers, rural health clinics, and critical access hospitals that serve low-income and rural communities.

Affordable Care Act provisions have a substantial effect on reducing the growth rate of Medicare spending.  Growth in Medicare spending per beneficiary hit historic lows during the 2010-2012 period, and this trend has continued into 2013. Projections by both the Office of the Actuary at CMS and the Congressional Budget Office estimate that Medicare spending per beneficiary will grow at approximately the rate of growth of the economy for the next decade, breaking a decades-old pattern of spending growth outstripping economic growth.

The next application period for organizations interested in participating in the Shared Savings Program beginning January 2015 will be in summer 2014.

More information about the Shared Savings Program, including previously announced ACOs, is available at:http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/sharedsavingsprogram/News.html.

For a list of the 123 new ACOs announced today, visit: http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/sharedsavingsprogram/Downloads/2014-ACO-Contacts-Directory.pdf.
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AHIP Back in the ‘huddle’ and Reminiscent of the ‘GHAA Revolution’?

By Gregg A Masters, MPH

It’s been a very long time since I participated in an AHIP event. In fact for the record I have NEVER been to an AHIP event – that is before this week in DC. I attended, filmed, tweeted, broadcasted from, and now blog about AHIP’s ‘Medicare, Medicaid and Dual Eligible 2013 Program series.AHIP Medicare, Medicaid, Duals DC 2013

As someone who’s guided, counseled and implemented (at times successfully and other times not) some rather large proprietary, non-profit (ah hem, I mean ‘tax exempt’) health systems and their national or regionally branded provider sponsored ‘managed’ (ah hem, I mean ‘discounted’) health plans dating back to the 80s and into the millennium this is awkward if not curious (‘N’ of one?) state of affairs.

AHIP is after all is the ‘go to’ resource for the health plan community and their aligned provider and health system partners.  Yet somehow in my non traditional yet ‘mangled’ healthcare career path I managed somehow to stay outside of that tribe of dedicated and passionate healthcare professionals.

Back then, half of AHIP’s predecessor iteration was known as GHAA – the ‘group health association of America.’ This was an multi-dimensional trade label, as ‘group’ could be seen from an employer’s wholesale purchasing of group health insurance (vs. the ‘individual market)’ perspective but also from the point of it’s constituent member health plans mostly built upon ‘risk savvy’ medical group practice infrastructure – Friendly Hills, Mullikin, Bristol Park, Harriman Jones et al, at least in Southern California – though peer equivalents peppered the national lanscape, ie, Dean, Kelsey Seybold, Scott & White, InterMountain, Park Nicollet, Virgina Mason.

It’s been a while since the vertical integration and rabid consumption of group, IPA, or network model HMOs by national nameplates storming into the managed competition market and away from their indemnity roots (Aetna/US Healthcare, Prudential/PruCare, United HealthGroup, The Equitable/Equicor), but the players back then included the likes of HealthNet, PacifiCare, TakeCare, Maxicare (RIP)’ and many other national startup wannabes ie, Partners/VHA, UniHealth/CareAmerica, HealthPlan of America, HealthCare USA, to name just a few.

Nonetheless, GHAA meetings radiated with excitement and enthusiasm as the disruption vibe of the day was to bring this HMO thing from marginal (a 2nd tier class of docs, hospitals and ‘ancillary providers’ aligned with ‘HMO medicine’) into the mainstream. HMOs other than Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic were seen as less than quality ie, ‘cheaper’ medicine. Yes, back then comprehensive HMO benefits where the ‘value play’ in the group health portfolio.

Fast forward to today September 25th 2013. Consider the following: the Affordable Care Act (ACA) though approved by Congress, signed into law by the President and affirmed constitutional by the Supreme Court is a hostage to the antics of the junior Senator from Texas leading a ‘defund ObamaCare’ filibuster of sorts amidst a very real threat of a Federal Government shutdown. [Editor's Note: Consider this the leading edge of wasting taxpayer dollars to pursue a political, not healthcare solution agenda].
AHIP podium signage
Whereas, in the ‘roll up your sleaves and lets get er done’ tribe, less than a mile away at the AHIP meeting a flock of dedicated healthcare professionals and aligned stakeholders from every sector of the healthcare ecosystem [perhaps absent the patients voice?] are ‘huddling’ to share best practices, enterprise models and the technical guidance that can assist the implementation of both the spirit and intent of a very complex and mostly certainly less than ideal law.

Wow what a contrast! That ‘juxtaposition of irony’ did not escape many of the faculty including no less than one warrior of a previous similar battle, the then OMB Director Alice Rivlin, now Co-chair, Bipartisan Policy Center’s Domenici-Rivlin Task Force and Interim Director of Brookings’ Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform who opined:

‘It really is a very strange time to be here in [Washington DC] the most extreme partisan politics in my memory and I’m afraid the most broken that I have seen our democratic process. Healthcare and health insurance are caught right in the middle of this dysfunctional situation……and [in view of the potential Federal Government shutdown] given this ‘disconnect’… you might wonder, have they lost their minds? And the answer is YES!’ – Alice Rivlin

So amidst this self imposed ‘faux’ crisis the title of the blog is to analogize the ‘return’ of AHIP to its original revolutionary roots. Given the scope, range and depth of the Act, making the ACA work is in the words of previous acting director of CMS and champion of ‘the triple aim’ Don Berwick an ‘all hands on deck’ affair. We need each other all rowing in the same direction if ‘we’ are to matter this time.

If not, the party for the public/private hosting of American medicine – both financing and delivery may be over.  It’s certainly debatable whether AHIP ever migrated away from their GHAA roots or not, but this is one observer’s experience in prior team huddles.

A Juxtaposition of DC Irony

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

It’s Monday in DC and the Capitol is distinctly vibrant albeit with a peculiar though eclectic mix of create vs.  deconstruct energies.

imageSome might say this attitudinal ‘chemical cocktail’ is in part sourced from a mix of ‘doers’, but also a smidge if not even a heaping portion of the just say ‘hell no’ [to Obamacare] crowd. For reference see: the latest effort by the House to derail health reform via a defund the act showdown with the Democratic controlled Senate and the President himself.

Yet amidst this continuing dance of oppositional strategizing we’re at the Renaissance Hotel DC for a series of one might characterize as ACA ‘implementation conferences’. These are principally the health plan doers who are under a mandate to reinvent themselves, and craft a sustainable market role for their members. The AHIP cohort is perhaps most visible via Aetna, Humana, United HealthGroup as well as others, who are intent upon making the best of this complex piece of legislation known as ‘the Affordable Care Act’. This gathering of players has huddled to support each others efforts and identify and share best practices to model as the industry collectively pursues the triple aim or alternatively cast as the coveted sustainable healthcare ecosystem.

One can assume the overwhelming mission of those attending the AHIP Conference trilogy are here to learn about if not advocate for the three pillars associated with the ACA: the tweaking of Medicare from volume to value via ACOs and other innovations, the significant expansion of Medicaid and the rapid expected growth in  ‘Dual Eligible’ population.

For conference schedule click here.

The hashtag for the conference is #AHIPMCMCConf.

ACO’s as Sinkhole Medicine? Nah…

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

sinkhole

As the battle for the accountable care narrative grinds on both in the media and the respective P&Ls of participant ACOs, a recent article in Healthcare Finance News titled: Accountable care organizations: cost-effective solutions or financial sinkholes? is noteworthy.  At first I chuckled, then thought, more headline ‘eye porn’ or is there really a message here?

So lets start with the remark that caught my viscera –  the ‘sinkhole’ attribution. The piece is written by Paul Cerrato aka Twitter @plcerrato ‘a healthcare editor and writer for 30 years, publishing extensively in a variety of healthcare and business journals’. Pauls sets context for the sinkhole visual here:

But although the costs of care for all the Pioneer ACOs grew by only 0.3 percent, compared to 0.8 percent for similar Medicare beneficiaries outside the program, the fact remains that only 13 generated shared savings [emphasis mine]. Seven of the Pioneer ACOs have decided to move to other pay for performance programs that involve less financial risk, and two of the participating organizations have decided to leave Medicare accountable care altogether.

Then he tees up the underlying ‘Jerry Maguire‘ strategic question:

Given the uneven financial performance of these pilot ACOs, C-suite executives are no doubt wondering: What secret sauce allows some ACOs to succeed while others fall short of their financial goals?

While acknowledging the increased risk exposure to the Pioneers:

Any risk benefit analysis should keep in mind that ACOs come in many different sizes and shapes, and given that the Pioneer ACO model is riskier than the standard Medicare Shared Savings Program, it would not be fair to conclude that the ACO model is flawed, per se.

So digging a little deeper into Paul’s narrative, it’s not about the ACO model. The sinkhole remark is really about the de minimis cost impact associated with the performance of the Pioneer class. Yet, in defense of ACOs and the ACA (a position I am often in) we need take into account the key question of:

ACOs as sinkholes, compared to what? 

ACOs are proactive on a number of levels. Whether a statutory MSSP, or a pilot or demo via CMMI or a private mutation via the ‘ACO collaborations’ of Aetna, United, Humana or the Blues, they are something other than ‘biz as usual’. Anything less is the unrestrained appetite of the healthcare borg, i.e., a business as usual strategy. Bottom line is the current paradigm of healthcare costs, coverage and access is the SINKHOLE with or without an ‘ACO contribution’.

The article is worth a read since it points to both ‘culture’ and the ‘long term investment’ ACOs will require before generating an economic ROI. Unfortunately, tell that to CMS, as they are measuring two pillars of the triple aim (experience & quality), but the driver in the equation is fundamentally the third pillar – per capita savings at the population level.

 

 

An ACO ‘Shell Game?’ Of Arrows, Pioneers & Patsies’

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

In ‘Pioneers Take Arrows While Settlers’ Get the Land’ I reported in a ‘just the facts ma’am’ fashion the developing narrative as proferred by Modern Healthcare, CMS, and the AMGA as to whether this was to be seen as good news or bad news.

Pioneer with arrow in backRecently the witty industry veteran and futurist  Ian Morrison weighed in via ‘Why Some ACO Pioneers Turned Back, as did Oliver Wyman via ‘The Year of the Pioneers’ and even the health policy braintrust, aka the ‘…aw shucks, we just really want to help Obamacare out’ cheerleading squad at the American Enterprise Institute weighed in via ‘Reforming Medicare integrated care: An alternative to the Obama administration’s accountable care organizations. Whoa can you say bandwidth consumption?

Indeed, rather than parse out each, I will address them separately via individual consideration. I just wanted to get them on the blog before more time passed.

I might add that as far back at June of 2012 at the jointly sponsored CAPG (California Association of Physician Groups) and IHA (Integrated Healthcare Association) ACO Congress word on the streeet had it  ‘all was not well in Pioneer land’. So fresh as some of these insights and realization may claim to be, some of the more chronic challenges have been on the record for quite some time.

You  might enjoy the reading ‘From ‘Unicorns to Multicorns” ACOs Morphing Below Radar’ which followed the ACO Congress.

As some say….

More will be revealed

Leavitt Partners on ACO Growth and Dispersion: An Update

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Per Leavitt Partners:

A ‘Growth and Dispersion of Accountable Care Organizations: August 2013 Update.’

The Leavitt Partners Center for Accountable Care Intelligence releases new white paper entitled “Growth and Dispersion of Accountable Care Organizations: August 2013 Update”Growth and Dispersion of ACOs August 2013.Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 12.09.40 PM

Salt Lake City, August 15, 2013 — Drawing from an ongoing study by Leavitt Partners, The Center for Accountable Care Intelligence has released an ‘August 2013 Update’ to the previously acclaimed white paper: Growth and Dispersion of Accountable Care Organizations.

The report details how the growth and proliferation of accountable care initiatives has unabatedly continued over the last twelve months. The broad adoption of accountable care paired with the emergence of preliminary results has provided some clarity to the overall accountable care movement.

Analysis of the current accountable care landscape highlights three significant findings:

The number of accountable care entities is increasing. Leavitt Partners is currently tracking 488 accountable care entities through the end of July 2013, more than double the number from June 2012.

Medicare ACOs are growing faster than non-Medicare ACOs. Medicare ACOs now comprise more than half of all accountable care contracts nationwide.

There are many different models of accountable care. No single model has emerged as most successful and as accountable care expands, we continue to see variety in organization and execution.

About Leavitt Partners

Leavitt Partners is a health care intelligence business. The firm delivers collaborative, high-value intelligence that helps clients transition to new models of care. Through its member-based collaboration called Health Intelligence Partners™ and direct services to clients, the consulting firm provides the best available window to the future of American health care. For more information visit LeavittPartners.com or call (801) 538-5082.

The ACO Innovation Summit

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

One of the few ACO gatherings I’ve missed since the birth of the industry (and there have been quite a few since there are ‘experts’ everywhere), but the line-up NEHI put together is well worth a look.

Both Steven Shortell and Molly Coye are definitely change agents on the front lines as is the balance of the faculty. Molly is pulling levers of a major institution with, some might say, an impossible reinvention agenda given its governance complexity and cost efficiency obstacles – unlike many other private institutions similarly challenged, while Shortell has a pulse on the healthcare ecosystem DNA, the macro policy dynamics of managed competition, and the empirics of business or service delivery models that work.

 

Thanks to the organizational initiative of NEHI staff. A bit of a delay (this is raw footage), but fast forward to 9:10 mark for introductory remarks by NEHI President Wendy Everett, ScD. About NEHI:

‘…NEHI is a nonprofit, health policy institute focused on enabling innovation that will improve health care quality and lower health care costs. Working in partnership with members from across the health care system, NEHI brings an objective, collaborative and fresh voice to health policy. We combine the collective vision of our diverse membership and our independent, evidence-based research to move ideas into action.’

As discussed elsewhere the battle at the moment is for the narrative on ACOs and by proxy the Affordable Care Act aka “Obamacare”. For context see: The ACO Narrative: ‘Accountable Care 2.0 is a Journey, Not a Program’ or ‘ObamaCare is Toast’? 

 

Key take-aways from the summit included:

  • ACOs necessitate thinking about “packaged” innovations – the organizational culture, process improvements, and payment models that surround a particular innovation.
  • Bundled payments, global budgets and other new ACO payment innovations are beginning to create the “markets for health” that will move the system from a culture of care to a culture of wellness.
  • In an ACO world, physicians require comparative effectiveness research, real world evidence, and ongoing guidance from industry to achieve improved patient outcomes.
  • ACOs are transforming the research landscape by turning previously unintegrated health systems into research organizations.
  • ACOs have created new opportunities for cross-sector partnerships to share data and enhance the pace of innovation.

The ACO Narrative: ‘Accountable Care 2.0 is a Journey, Not a Program’ or ‘ObamaCare is Toast’?

Earlier today we spoke with Dr Jerry Penso, Chief Medical and Quality Officer for the American Medical Group Management Association (AMGA), and Jim Hansen, Vice President at the Accountable Delivery Systems Institute (ADSI) a unit of Lumeris.

To listen to the broadcast click on the ‘This Week in Accountable Care’ graphic below:

This Week in Accountable Care | @ACOwatch | Hosted by Gregg A. MastersThe context for the chat was the release by CMS of year one results reported by the 32 participants in the ACO Pioneer program.

For Jim Hansen’s thoughts on the ‘journey’ noted above, see: Accountable Care 2.0: It’s a Journey, Not a Program. Jim’s noteworthy highlights include the metrics reported below:

‘CMS released a long-awaited checkpoint status on its Pioneer ACO program. Of the 32 entities enrolled in the program, according to CMS:

  • 2 (6%) will leave the CMS ACO program altogether
  • 7 (22%) will eliminate the down-side risk component by reapplying under the MSSP program
  • 32 (100%) improved quality of patient care & rated highly on patient satisfaction scores
  • 18 (56%) achieved some cost savings, 13 (41%)saved enough to share savings with Medicare
  • 2 (6%) cost Medicare more and will owe $4M back
  • 12 (38%) did not achieve significant savings•
  • $140M in total savings, $52.4M in total losses, $76M in shared shavings to be returned to 13 (41%)Pioneers
  • $33M in net savings for the Medicare Trust Funds.’

For additional context – both narrative and ‘moving the needle’ transformational – with links to the original CMS announcement, see: ‘Pioneers Take Arrows While Settlers’ Get the Land?’ or Michel Millenson‘s informed, witty and dead on accurate take on ‘This Week in Health Innovation’. To quote Michael, per the attributed impact of the ACA irrespective of the relentless attempts to appeal ‘ObamaCare’:

we’re finally moving the iceberg…

Day 2 4th National ACO Summit

By Gregg A. Masters, MPH

Year four for the annual DC gathering of the best and brightest minds in the ACO space, convened yesterday in pre-conference sessions at the Hyatt Regency, DC. Day 2 kicks off with a keynote by Senator Ron Wyden @RonWyden, followed by a power packed tour de force of ACO operatives:

Opening Panel 4th National ACO
Complete agenda and schedule is available here.

Yesterday was a light ‘twitterstream’ but analytics are here and the transcript is here.