Physicians flocking to ACO models

Though physicians haven’t been on board with all of President Obama’s solutions to health care, they are embracing at least one approach.

The number of physicians participating in the emerging medical care delivery system known as accountable care organizations has tripled in the past year, according to new research.

Nearly one in four doctors are in or planning to link with an accountable care organization within a year, a new Medscape study found. By comparison, only 8 percent of physicians in last year’s report said they were in or planning to join an ACO. Medscape’s report analyzed responses from nearly 22,000 U.S. physicians across 25 specialties.

“There’s a dramatic change in the number of physicians who are becoming involved in accountable care organizations,” the report said. “The focus on ACOs as a care-delivery and cost-containment method is making an impact.”

ACOs were created under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with the intent of improving care while lowering costs.

Under the ACO model — which brings together groups of hospitals, doctors and other health providers to direct patient care — organizations are paid for caring for a pool of patients rather than for each procedure. Groups receive a percentage of the savings they generate for Medicare as an incentive for keeping costs low.

Since passage of PPACA, more than 250 ACOs have been established, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A report earlier this year by consulting firm Oliver Wyman gauged feelings on ACOs from a consumer-standpoint. The firm found that ACOs are gaining momentum among consumers and employers, and also said that more than half of Americans now live in an ACO area. Insurers, too, have also increasingly been linking with ACOs.

The new Medscape report shows that doctors are finally starting to embrace ACOs. Previously, the health care industry suggested participation would grow rapidly — eventually.

“The expected growth of ACOs is quite staggering as both managed  care organizations and physicians appear to be buying into the core concepts of ACOs and, in many ways, we’re just now seeing the tip of the iceberg for ACOs,” Roy Moore, a product manager for Decision Resources, a research and advisory firm for pharmaceutical and health care issues, said last year.

For physicians, the hope is that a strong accountable care organization network will trim spending and improve the bottom lines of clinics and hospitals.

According to Oliver Wyman, the total number of patients in organizations with ACO arrangements with at least one payer — both Medicare and non-Medicare — is now between 37 and 43 million, or roughly 14 percent of the population.

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