Health Affairs: Analysis Of Early Accountable Care Organizations Defines Patient, Structural, Cost, And Quality-Of-Care Characteristics

Arnold M. Epstein, Ashish K. Jha, E. John Orav, Daniel L. Liebman, Anne-Marie J. Audet, Mark A. Zezza, and Stuart Guterman


Accountable care organizations (ACOs) have attracted interest from many policy makers and clinical leaders because of their potential to improve the quality of care and reduce costs. Federal ACO programs for Medicare beneficiaries are now up and running, but little information is available about the baseline characteristics of early entrants. In this descriptive study we present data on the structural and market characteristics of these early ACOs and compare ACOs’ patient populations, costs, and quality with those of their non-ACO counterparts at baseline. We found that ACO patients were more likely than non-ACO patients to be older than age eighty and had higher incomes. ACO patients were less likely than non-ACO patients to be black, covered by Medicaid, or disabled. The cost of care for ACO patients was slightly lower than that for non-ACO patients. Slightly fewer than half of the ACOs had a participating hospital. Hospitals that were in ACOs were more likely than non-ACO hospitals to be large, teaching, and not-for-profit, although there was little difference in their performance on quality metrics. Our findings can be useful in interpreting the early results from the federal ACO programs and in establishing a baseline to assess the programs’ development.


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