California Medical Association Adopts Organizing Principles for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs)

Francisco Silva

Guiding principle – The goal of an accountable care organization (ACO) is to increase access to care, improve the quality of care and ensure the efficient delivery of care. Within an ACO, a physician’s primary ethical and professional obligation is the well-being and safety of the patient.

ACO governance – ACOs must be physician-led and encourage an environment of collaboration among physicians. ACOs must also be physician-led in order to ensure that a physician’s medical decisions are not based on commercial interests but rather on professional medical judgment that puts patients’ interests first.

Voluntary participation – Patient participation in an ACO should be voluntary rather than a mandatory assignment by Medicare. Any physician organization (including an organization that bills on behalf of physicians under a single tax identification number) or any other entity that creates an ACO must obtain the written affirmative consent of each physician to participate in the ACO. Physicians should not be required to join an ACO as a condition of contracting with Medicare, Medi-Cal or a private payor or being admitted to a hospital medical staff.

Savings used for patient care – The savings and revenues of an ACO should be retained for patient care services and distributed to the ACO participants. An ACO’s savings and revenues should not go to insurers.

Flexibility in patient referral and antitrust laws – The federal and state anti-kickback and self-referral laws and the federal Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP) statute (which prohibits payments by hospitals to physicians to reduce or limit care) should be sufficiently flexible to allow physicians to collaborate with hospitals in forming ACOs without being employed by the hospitals or ACOs. This is particularly important for physicians in small and medium size practices who may want to remain independent but otherwise integrate and collaborate with other physicians (i.e., so-called virtual integration) for purposes of participating in the ACO.

For more detailed information, or to view the full report from CMA’s Physician-Hospital Alignment Technical Advisory Committee, click here.




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