Visit SDIndyACO.com, and you’re greeted by a Hawaiian shirt hanging in an otherwise empty closet. “Future home of something quite cool,” the page’s headline reads.
Forget unicorns,camels and all the other metaphors used to describe accountable care organizations these past few years.
The website — the homepage of the newly formed San Diego Independent ACO, which was one of 106 organizations named last week to Medicare’s Shared Savings Program — could sum up where we stand now on ACOs.
While we’re close enough to see their outline, some ACOs are still just teasing their promise. Many organizations have yet to launch a Web presence (or in San Diego Independent ACO’s case, are waiting to get CMS approval). And more health care providers are rushing to build the ACO structure in hopes of winning federal contracts — and filling out the details later.
Understanding the Medicare ACO Model
The ACO model is loosely defined as having integrated teams of providers share responsibility for caring for a select population of patients. (That isn’t a new idea — and based on that definition, California’s had dozens of physician-led groups and integrated networks essentially operating as ACOs for years.)
After a seemingly endless presidential campaign, we’re just days away from the Nov. 6 election. And to be sure, health care issues remain at the forefront.
Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have tried to claim the high ground as Medicare’s number one defender. In his latest column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman argues that next week’s vote “is, to an important degree, really about Medicaid.” And writing on Bloomberg View, columnist Ezra Klein takes an even broader stance, concluding that “this election is all about health care.”
But health care isn’t all about the election, despite politics’ seeming ability to draw every sector into its gravitational pull.
In fact, many of the most significant stories in health care from the past two months haven’t come from the campaign trail — where candidates have mostly rehashed their existing policies — but from the private sector, as employers and providers have made aggressive, and sometimes unexpected, deals and changes. Reforms that will continue regardless of who’s sitting in the Oval Office next year.
Here are some of those stories.
Top Employers Move to Defined Contribution
As previously discussed in “Road to Reform,” Sears Holdings and Darden Restaurants have made plans to shift away from their current “defined benefits” — where they choose a set of health insurance benefits on behalf of their workers — and roll out “defined contribution” instead.
Under that model, firms pay a fixed amount for employees’ health benefits and allow workers to choose their coverage from an online marketplace, such as the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges or the emerging number of privately run exchanges.
In theory, the model would slow employers’ health costs while allowing employees to have more control over their own health care spending. And Sears and Darden’s announcements aren’t wholly unexpected, given that many employers have signaled their interest in making a similar shift.
But given the long-entrenched employer-sponsored health coverage model, some employers needed to be the first movers before the rest would be ready to follow.
Will they? That will be a major industry issue to watch across the next months.