The economics of provider payment reform: Are accountable care organizations the answer?

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Abstract

A remarkable consensus has developed that the fee-for-service (FFS) approach for paying medical providers must be replaced. This payment approach is said to increase the volume of services without improving care coordination. In response to these calls, Medicare and private payers are experimenting with payment systems that combine the basic element of FFS-a fee for each service-with arrangements that allow providers to share the savings if they hold total spending per patient below a targeted amount. Medicare's accountable care organizations (ACOs) embody the shared savings approach to payment reform. Private payers have introduced total cost of care contracting (TCOC) in several locations. This article questions the consensus that FFS must go. If the fees are too high, then someone needs to "bite the bullet" and reduce fees in key areas. Hoping to control overspending by investment in ACOs is wishful thinking. I describe the theory and practice of shared savings payment systems and summarize recent TCOC contracting initiatives in the private sector. Medicare's shared savings approach is likely to be less effective than private contracts. Cutting providers' fees would be more efficient. Finally, the new payment models in the Affordable Care Act will not ease the problem of high prices for private payers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)745-760
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of health politics, policy and law
Volume40
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Keywords

  • Accountable care organizations
  • Fee-for-service
  • Payment reform

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