Editor’s note: In addition to Glenn Melnick, this post is coauthored by Lois Green.
Background: In a very short period of time, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) have become an important and widespread part of the US health care landscape. A recent Health Affairs Blog post estimates the total number of public (Medicare) and private ACOs at more than 600 nationally, covering more than 18 million insured population. Despite their rapid and widespread adoption, relatively little is known about how ACOs actually work and how successful they have been. This is due in part to their relative “newness,” as many reported ACOs are just getting up and running. Others have been operational for short periods of time and have yet to produce meaningful or long-term sustainable results.
This Health Affairs Blog post helps fill some of this void by reporting on the operational experiences of one of the oldest (4+ years) and largest commercial ACOs in the nation. A previous Health Affairs Blog post reported on its initial planning and start-up phase, and a subsequent Health Affairs article reported on its early financial results.
In 2007, Blue Shield of California, along with provider and employer partner organizations, began exploring development of one of the first ACO-like programs in the country to serve Commercial patients. It launched in 2010 and, as reported below, has been generating savings to consumers throughout the period. Located in the competitive Sacramento market of northern California, the ACO is an example of an innovative shared savings model involving a large insurer—Blue Shield of California; a purchaser—the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS); a physician group—Hill Physicians Medical Group (HPMG); and a hospital system—Dignity Health. The population served approximately 42,000 CalPERS employees and their families covered by Blue Shield.
In this Health Affairs Blog interview, senior executives from each of the partnership organizations, all of whom have operational responsibilities and oversight of this ground-breaking Commercial ACO, discuss key operational aspects of the ACO and its implementation. They discuss evolution of the culture, governance and essential “partnership” relationships an ACO requires to survive and thrive. In addition, they detail specific operational initiatives designed to coordinate and manage care, and report on how these initiatives have fared over the four-year period since the ACO’s launch. Empirical results show success in many areas, with challenges in some others. Of particular note has been overall cost of health care (COHC) savings reported at gross savings of more than $105 million, with net savings of $95 million to CalPERS members, since 2010. Finally, the partners illuminate the ACO’s future directions and offer lessons for other organizations considering development of an ACO delivery system for the Commercial market.
The interview was supported by funding from the California HealthCare Foundation.
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