Medicare proposes sweeping changes to ACO program

As part of the 2023 Physician Fee Schedule proposed rule, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined major changes to the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), with the goals of increasing participation in the program and improving health equity.

The agency hopes their revisions to the benchmarking methodology, which will advantage smaller accountable care organizations (ACOs) and those enrolling large numbers of underserved beneficiaries, will change the trajectory of the program.

With participation among providers stagnating in recent years, the new rules represent a recognition from CMS that MSSP, in its current form, is likely to increase spending rather than generate significant savings. The rule also includes a 3.9 percent decrease in the “conversion factor” for physician payment, which has already drawn outrage from the American Medical Association and other physician groups. 

The Gist: There is little reason to expect that these modifications—as significant as they are—will be meaningful to beneficiaries or to the Medicare program’s overall sustainability. Although it is heartening to see CMS admit that ACOs are on course to violate the statutory requirement that the program not increase spending, the proposed changes would net only $14.8B in savings over a twelve-year period—a rounding error for a program that spent $830B in 2020 alone. Meanwhile the 11M beneficiaries attributed to MSSP ACOs are dwarfed by the 28M enrolled in MA.

For many health systems and physician groups—particularly those who are most progressive in managing risk—MSSP is now a sideshow to their Medicare Advantage (MA) strategies. The federal government has made two “bets” on how to lower health spending for seniors, and the dollars spent on enticing insurers to grow their MA businesses (in the form of subsidies) far outweigh the effort to encourage provider participation in ACOs—a clear sign of Medicare’s priorities.

But with MA currently not generating savings compared to fee-for-service Medicare, cuts in per-beneficiary spending in MA will be necessary to achieve savings in the long term.      

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.