We recently heard Jonathan Blum, Deputy Administrator and Director of the Centers for Medicare at CMS speak regarding ACOs. He was discussing “Accountable Care Organizations and the Affordable Care Act,” and answered questions from an audience at a conference.  The first Medicaid ACO may be authorized in New Jersey in a bill before the NJ Legislature. It is an attempt to reach under served, poor who often cannot access health reform programs, which is one type of ACO that may evolve.

Some of the questions included:

  • Regarding geographic exclusivity for ACOs Blum acknowledged the difficulties presented by overlap, but also pointed to the negative implications of exclusivity on competition.
  • Will physicians be able to join more than one ACO? CMS is considering rules that may be different for primary care physicians and specialists, but Blum said that overlapping provider networks will make the computation of gain difficult when gains haring is implemented.
  • CMS anticipates a variety of models for ACOs, but stressed that no ACO would function without physician buy-in.

Accountable Care standards may fluid for some time, however it is clear that there will be a need for core competencies in population management, coordination of care and other areas for an ACO to function effectively.  Blum emphasized that CMS will be looking for innovative models, with different payment systems, and with different “on ramps” to formation and approval.  It was also acknowledged that improving quality and reducing cost through coordination of care will at times be at odds with and the Accountable Care Act’s continued focus on patient choice of providers.

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