The belief that healthcare should, and would, transition from “volume to value” was a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, with more than a decade of experience and data to consider, there is little indication that either Medicare or the healthcare industry at large has meaningfully shifted away from fee-for-service payment. Using data from the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations, the graphic below shows that the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP)—the largest of the ACA’s payment innovations, with over 500 accountable care organizations (ACOs) reaching 11M assigned beneficiaries—has led to minimal savings for Medicare. In its first eight years, MSSP saved Medicare only $3.4B, or a paltry 0.06 percent, of the $5.6T that it spent over that time.
Policymakers had hoped that a Medicare-led move to value would prompt commercial payers to follow suit, but that also hasn’t happened. The proportion of payment to health systems in capitated or other risk-based arrangements barely budged from 2013 to 2020—remaining negligible for most organizations, and rarely amounting to enough to influence strategy. The proportion of risk-based payment for doctors is slightly higher, but still far below what is needed to enable wholesale change in care across a practice.
While Medicare has other options if it wants to increase value-based payment, like making ACOs mandatory, it’s harder to see how the trend in commercial payment will improve, as large payers, who are buying up scores of care delivery assets themselves, seem to have little motivation to deal providers in on risk.
While financial upside of moving to risk hasn’t been significant enough to move the market to date, we aren’t suggesting health systems throw out their population management playbook—to meet mounting cost labor pressures, systems must deliver lower cost care, in lower cost settings, with lower cost staff, just to maintain economic viability moving forward.