As of yesterday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services designated 89 new medical groups as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) throughout the country. Ten of these groups came from Florida, which means nearly 1,300 doctors are now considered ACOs by the federal government. ACOs are in charge of overseeing Medicare services, ensuring widespread availability of health care services without unnecessary visits or wasted funds.
ACOs were formed as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and therefore have a large non-fan base. This is the organization the GOP refers to as being responsible for “rationing” in health care, the act of which is strictly prohibited in an ACO – though they do monitor Medicare expenses. It is not rationing that is being performed by an ACO, but rather acting as an organizer of care for Medicare recipients. Patients who are part of an ACO still have every right to select their own health care providers.
The unfamiliarity with ACO practices may not be well-received, though it will not strip anyone of their freedom to see doctors of their choice. Though some Medicare patients might also object to changes, there is not any change in the quality of care they will be receiving. If anything, the intent is for quality to improve.
One way for an ACO to operate is through a “medical home,” which slightly resembles an HMO or other managed care organizations. These are groups where a primary care physician works as the main doctor, orchestrating care through other health care professionals as a team to manage the medical needs of patients. Medical homes are intended to monitor individuals, while simultaneously saving money and increasing the level of care.
ACOs consist of all types of providers, physicians, hospitals and medical facilities, but so far in Florida it seems almost entirely to consist of doctors. Throughout the state, from Pensacola and Jacksonville to Boynton Beach, the federally ordained groups have been full of physicians, with little hospital involvement.
As ACOs become more frequently used and normalized, we will be able to see their effectiveness. At this time, it is interesting to see the direction of health care methods as they change with health care reform.