ACOs: An Update on the Race

By Conor Green

A few months ago, we noted that the release of regulations for ACOs would trigger an ACO services race across the healthcare landscape, where market participants would be sprinting to create service offerings that would help hospitals and physician practices become compliant with the CMS ACO regulations for sharing financial risk and the rewards.  So where do things stand six months later?

Just like earlier this year, the “Big Two” – Optum and Aetna – seem to be squarely in the lead of creating a turnkey ACO solution.  And in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a couple items of note from these two.  The first was an interview with Charles Kennedy, CEO of Aetna’s ACO division on HISTalk.  In the interview, Kennedy talks about how Aetna is pursuing the ACO opportunity via three go-to-market offerings:

  • Clinical integration (basically an HIE via Medicity)
  • A population-based approach with chronic disease management tools that typically rolls out to hospital employees as a way of deploying a light version of an ACO
  • A full, private-label health plan, where a delivery system has their own health plan “powered by Aetna”

Last week, Optum announced that it has brought together its own ACO division with more than 700 people (!) focused on enabling “Sustainable Health Communities,” which is Optum’s version of the ACO concept.  Optum’s press release calls out its own five-part strategy:

  • Patient and population health management
  • Informatics, analytics, and technology
  • Clinical integration, network development, and physician change management
  • Payment model, contracting, and actuarial expertise
  • Operating expertise

Interestingly, the press release also mentions that Optum is also bringing solutions to market targeted at commercial health plans and government payers – the other side of the ACO/shared risk/bundled payment equation.

The big question we have been trying to figure out here at TripleTree is who is going to follow “the Big Two” and their industry-leading ACO partnership announcements (specifically: Optum with Tuscon Medical Center and Aetna with Carilion Clinic)?  Where are the other healthcare companies that are going to pursue this mammoth opportunity?  Wellpoint’s acquisition of CareMore, McKesson’s acquisition of Portico, and Harris Corporation’s acquisition of Carefx certainly point to their interest in this market, as does Premier’s burgeoning alliance with IBM – but we have yet to see any of these or other players signal their interest in developing a broader set of provider-focused bundled payment service offerings.

This past week we think have finally seen another company unequivocally throwing its hat in the ring:  The Advisory Board Company announced the creation of a new company called Evolent Health, in partnership with the UPMC Health Plan.  Evolent intends to provide a platform for population and health plan management to leading health systems as they develop their value-based care strategies.  This follows ABCO’s earlier acquisitions of Crimson, Concuity, and Cielo MedSolutions – all earlier signals that the company was pursuing the hospital analytics, contracting, and registry marketplaces in a big way.

It makes perfect sense for The Advisory Board to do this – with nearly unparalled access to hospital c-suites across the country, it was only a matter of time before they launched a solution to address the many, many requests they must be getting to help with hospitals’ new risk-sharing strategies.  We see this as a welcome development in this space, and hope to see other HCIT players, undoubtedly facing their own questions from their healthcare clients, enter the fray as well.  Where are you, Accenture, Microsoft, and Elsevier?

Let us know what you think.

Conor Green is a Vice President at TripleTree covering the healthcare industry, and specializing in revenue cycle management and tech-enabled business services. You can email Conor at


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