Strengthening primary care has been a core goal of health care payment reform over the past several years. Primary care physicians are the cornerstone of the health care delivery, directing billions of dollars of follow-on care. With better support, the models presume, primary care doctors could guide their patients toward a better health, direct them to the right care when needed, and in so doing, bring down unnecessary medical costs. Moreover, especially if coupled with payment reforms that can support better coordination with specialist practices, these reforms can provide an alternative to health system employment and health care consolidation, thus buoying competition in local markets.
The most recent effort toward this goal lies at the heart of the recently announced Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) program. This program doubles down on the kinds of “medical home” payment and delivery reforms that were the hallmarks of previous Medicare initiatives, most notably the Comprehensive Primary Care Initiative, which in its first two years showed significant improvements in some dimensions of quality – but so far has generally failed to show reductions in overall costs significant enough to offset the per-member per-month (PMPM) payments to primary care practices to support their reforms. While some medical home payment reforms have shown both savings and outcome improvements, overall results have been mixed particularly in Medicare, with the result that the CMS actuaries have not yet “certified” any such medical home model as leading to overall spending reductions.