Coordination of care in both states resulted in reduced utilization of primary care services. In Oregon, this translated into improvements in 3 out of 4 measures of access to care, including well-child care visits for children age 3 to 6, well-care visits for adolescents, and preventive ambulatory care for adults, which improved by 2.7%; (95% CI, 1.2%-4.2%), 6.8% (95% CI,  5.2%-8.3%), and 1.3% (95% CI, 0.3%-2.2%), respectively, compared with Colorado. Oregon also showed improvement in reduction of visits to the emergency department and preventable hospitalization. 

Low-value care measured by treatments for asthma and pharyngitis in children, and appropriate imaging for low back pain did not improve in Oregon, except for avoidance of uncomplicated headache. The investigators noted that corresponding savings were not as significant as might be expected from so much federal funding, and that “CCOs may need more time to fully implement changes that translate to greater savings.”3

Continue Reading

The McConnell analysis did not attribute these improvements in utilization in either state solely to ACO implementation of cost containment, but suggested that the study period of 2010 to 2014 may have been a time of “historically low national health spending growth.”3 Despite this, the programs seem to be working and the researchers expect that they may become more important in the current environment in which healthcare spending growth appears to be increasing (5.3% in 2014 vs 2.9% in 2013).5

The Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP)

Management of waste spending associated with post-acute care was addressed by McWilliams’ review4 of the MSSP implemented by ACOs, which found that MMSP participation in 2014 resulted in a 9% reduction in waste spending compared with local nonparticipating healthcare professionals. This reduction was largely derived from reduced patient discharge to care facilities, shorter facility stays, and reduced utilization of inpatient acute care. 

Cost savings increased with longer participation in ACOs, although it took longer for later entrants to achieve the same benefits as earlier entrants. According to the McWilliams assessment, “Spending reductions in postacute care were achieved without ostensibly compromising or improving the quality of care for ACO patients, based on mortality, readmissions, and use of highly rated SNFs.”4

Too Early to Measure Success

A commentary6 by Carrie H. Colla, PhD and Elliott S. Fisher, MD, MPH noted that the investigators found that, “all 3 programs show some degree of success, although the results continue to be modest in magnitude.” They agreed with the  McConnell and McWilliams assessments, which contend that such a large transition in how the use of medical services is determined, made accessible, implemented, and paid for requires a long-term commitment to new practices.

ACOs have good potential for success in improving the quality of and access to care, and with continued evaluation and adaptation, these models promise to provide sustainable reform of healthcare costs and management for the future.


  1. MACRA: Delivery System Reform, Medicare Payment Reform. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Accessed July 5, 2017.
  2. Resources for the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. American Academy of Family Practitioners. Accessed July 5, 2017.
  3. McConnell KJ, Renfro S, Chan BK, et l. Early performance in medicaid accountable care organizations: a comparison of Oregon and Colorado. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177:538-545.
  4. McWilliams JM, Gilstrap LG, Stevenson DG, Chernew ME, Huskamp HA, Grabowski DC. Changes in postacute care in the medicare shared savings program. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177:518-526.
  5. Martin AB, Hartman M, Benson J, Catlin A; National Health Expenditure Accounts Team. National health spending in 2014: faster growth driven by coverage expansion and prescription drug spending. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016;35:150-160.
  6. Colla CH, Fisher ES. Moving forward with accountable care organizations: some answers, more questions. JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177:526-528.

Related Articles


This article originally appeared on Neurology Advisor