MORRISTOWN, NJ (Morris County) – Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are here to stay, having remained successful over the course of a decade and weathering the greatest challenge to the health care field in a lifetime, said officials from Atlantic Health System’s ACOs.
That assessment follows the results of the recently released report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) showing Atlantic Health System’s ACOs – Atlantic Accountable Care Organization, Optimus Healthcare Partners and Healthcare Quality Partners– were again collectively able to save millions of dollars to Medicare by reducing the cost of care in 2021. At the same time, these ACOs also continued to see improvements to care quality, through efforts to customize interactions between clinicians and their patients.
Leading Atlantic Health’s ACOs in terms of savings was Optimus Healthcare Partners, which marked nine consecutive years since its inception in savings to Medicare, and eight of those nine years earning shared savings for physicians.
The annual report reflects that while nationwide, ACOs did not see as robust savings as in prior years due to the pandemic, leaders of Atlantic Health’s ACOs said the results nevertheless showed the resilience of the ACO model, which this year marks its 10th anniversary nationwide. Atlantic Health officials cited support for physicians participating in the ACOs as key to their efforts in offsetting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on ACO-participating physicians.
“Since their inception a decade ago, ACOs were showing steady success before the pandemic,” said Thomas Kloos, MD, director of the Atlantic MSO, the umbrella for the ACOs. “The fact that they were able to withstand the harshest of tests of this event and still remain successful is proof positive that value-based care remains the way forward for health care.”
As part of the health care legislation passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2010, CMS was authorized to develop a Medicare Shared Savings Program by creating accountable care organizations. The intention of the legislation is to reduce costs and improve quality of care through cooperation and coordination among providers. The first Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs were created in 2012, including Atlantic ACO and Optimus Healthcare Partners ACO.
In the decade following the creation of the ACO model, Atlantic Health’s ACOs were able to save a combined total of more than $168 million, with $64.5 million in shared savings for ACO physicians and health system participants. Atlantic Health System ACOs saved Medicare more than $10 million in 2021.
Contributing to this success, Kloos and his colleagues said, was the support that participating physicians were provided as part of value-based payments. That support helped to offset the challenges that many physicians were experiencing during the earlier days of the pandemic.
In addition to helping to reverse escalating health care costs ACOs are also continuing to provide improved quality and a more positive patient experience. Using powerful analytics tools that combine clinical and emotional intelligence, Atlantic Health’s physicians and caregivers are able to better predict and proactively respond to patient needs.
“The exciting part is we are helping our physicians work smarter and more efficiently,” said Scott Maron, MD, president of Optimus Healthcare Partners. “Our team of care coordinators, population managers and data analysts are utilizing the latest technology to connect the patient to the doctor and extended care team. This approach allows us to better understand our patients, as well as take a deeper dive into the factors impacting their communities.”
Looking toward the future, the Atlantic Health ACO leaders said that 2021 also clearly highlighted the importance of addressing health equity and social determinants of health, as it became readily apparent how minority and at-risk communities suffered disparate effects of the pandemic
“Any veil that was left over health inequalities was torn away in this pandemic, and as ACOs, we have a clearer view of what we need to do to make care better for those populations,” said James Barr, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of the ACOs. We need to continue to empower our physicians and their teams, more closely connect them with their patients, and use information to address these needs.”