Medical Homes and Cost and Utilization Among High-Risk Patients

A longitudinal case-control design was used to evaluate the effects of the patient-centered medical home model on medical costs and utilization among high-risk patients.
Published Online: March 24, 2014
Susannah Higgins, MS; Ravi Chawla, MBA; Christine Colombo, MBA; Richard Snyder, MD; and Somesh Nigam, PhD
High-risk patients enrolled in nonpediatric primary care practices which adopted the patient-centered medical home (PCMH) model had significantly lower per member per month medical costs and utilization per 1000 members compared with non- PCMH practices after adjusting for baseline characteristics.
  • Costs and utilization did not significantly differ between PCMH and non-PCMH groups among all patients, suggesting that the benefits of the PCMH model are concentrated among high-risk, high-cost patients.

  • PMCH cost reductions appear to have been driven by lower rates of hospitalization, and total costs fell even though utilization of specialist care saw significant increases in the first 2 years.
The patient-centered medical home (PCMH) has been advanced as a promising framework for transforming primary care. In 2007, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, and American Osteopathic Association issued the “Joint Principles of the Patient-Centered Medical Home,” which outlined the PCMH model. The medical home model emphasizes a team-based approach to primary care, in which a physician-leader coordinates care by other providers across multiple sites and specialties. It encourages increased access, both in terms of expanding practice hours and opening new channels of communication with patients. Organizations such as the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative have initiated numerous pilot programs aimed at studying the impact of PCMH adoption,1 and the PCMH model was written into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 as an area for study.2

A number of previous studies have shown early promise for the PCMH model as a vehicle for controlling costs and improving the quality of healthcare delivered by primary care practices,3-6 including for targeting subpopulations such as children with special health needs.7 However, reviews often point to the incomplete nature of this work, citing methodological concerns,5,7,8 insufficient time for practices to implement reforms, and inadequate policy support beyond the level of individual practices.4 This study aims to contribute to this literature by comparing the effects of adopting the PCMH model on the healthcare cost and utilization in the nonpediatric population, using propensity score matching in order to reduce variability in the PCMH and non- PCMH groups studied. Additionally, the analysis employs difference-indifferences regression analysis in order to further control for remaining differences in patients’ characteristics as well as cost and utilization at baseline.

This study aims to assess the impact of PCMH adoption on the patients identified as having the greatest health risks. While the Joint Principles envision the PCMH model as being applicable to all patients, other pilots have targeted only high-risk patients with complex needs.9 The high cost of care associated with relatively few individuals makes such targeting a potentially powerful mechanism: one study noted that virtually all of the growth in expenditures for Medicare over the period from 1987 to 2002 occurred among beneficiaries with 5 or more chronic illnesses10; another paper noted that only 10% of Medicare beneficiaries accounted for 70% of healthcare costs.11 In order to evaluate whether the benefits of medical homes are limited to such high-risk, high-cost subpopulations, this study reports cost and utilization comparisons 2 ways: first, for all matched patients; and subsequently, limited to the patients with risk scores in the 90th percentile or above for the study population.


Program Description

The majority of the PCMH practices (15/17) included in this study were part of Pennsylvania’s Chronic Care Initiative, a multi-stakeholder effort to improve primary care, which launched a 3-year pilot project that started in May 2008 in the Philadelphia area. The largest commercial health plans— led by Independence Blue Cross, all 3 Medicaid managed care plans, and 32 practices caring for 250,000 members—were convened by the governor to establish the first of several regional PCMH programs. Practices received significant additional payments to participate in a learning collaborative which supported practice transformation and provided the care management and coordination services required by patients with chronic conditions. The learning collaborative was based on Wagner’s Chronic Care Model12 and led by the MacColl Institute, with Edward H. Wagner, MD, MPH, facilitating the first session.

Practices were required to send a physician and a practice support leader to 7 days of sessions. Practice coaches provided ongoing support and education on installing and using a registry to track and monitor patients and implementing a team-based approach involving care managers, health educators, and other nonphysician healthcare personnel to promote self-management skills and patient engagement.13 Additionally, clinical guidelines were used to create evidence-based standing orders to optimize patient care. Practices used their electronic systems to identify and stratify patients in need of care management, selfmanagement support, and goal monitoring. Patient engagement was promoted through the use of report cards, on which concrete data from each visit are logged for patients so they can monitor their progress.

To provide a definition of the PCMH model, the authors employed the recognition standards published by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). These standards list 9 categories encompassing 30 possible practice improvements (including 10 “must pass” items), each of which has a point value. Three levels of certification are possible, with each defined by a minimum number of “must pass” items achieved and specified point totals. The full list of recognition criteria appears in Table 1.14 Practices qualified for PCMH status by achieving NCQA Level 1 recognition or higher during 2009, and the control group was limited to practices which did not receive recognition until 2011 or later.

Study Population and Design

This study employs a longitudinal, case-control design to compare members of commercial health maintenance organizations (HMOs) enrolled in nonpediatric PCMH and non-PCMH practices with respect to healthcare costs and utilization during the period from 2009 to 2011. All figures are reported first for the full matched cohort of cases and controls (N = 6940 cases and 6940 controls), and then using the 10% of patients with highest risk scores, drawn from the pooled population of cases and controls (N = 654 cases and 734 controls).

DxCG risk score refers to the concurrent medical risk score calculated using the commercial risk adjustment model developed by Verisk Health DxCG Risk Solutions, version 3.1 (Verisk Health, Cary, North Carolina).15 The DxCG models use linear, additive formulas obtained from ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions to combine expenses associated with clinical groupings (Condition Categories and Rx- Groups) and demographic factors (age, gender) to generate predictions. Hierarchies are imposed on Condition Categories before regression models are run to decrease their sensitivity to variations in coding and to strengthen the predictive power of the models across a wide range of benefit designs and pricing arrangements.15 The concurrent risk score in this analysis used each individual’s age, gender, and claims information from all medical encounters and enrollment data as inputs to predict annual total medical resource use for the patient.

Patients evaluated were enrolled in 17 PCMH practices, 15 of which were participating in the Pennsylvania Chronic Care Initiative pilot (cases), or 1 of 103 non-PCMH comparison practices in PA (controls). The high-risk patients were slightly more concentrated, appearing in only 14 PCMH practices (12 of which were part of the pilot) and 69 non-PCMH practices. Costs were assessed as per member per month (PMPM) costs and utilization was measured as encounters per 1000 patients per year.


Criteria In order to qualify for inclusion, each member must have been enrolled with the same primary care physician for at least 3 months and have been associated consistently with a PCMH or non-PCMH practice for 6 months or more during each year of the study period, including baseline (2008). Only nonpediatric practices located in Pennsylvania were included in the analysis. Pediatric practices were excluded to reduce the variability in the age of members in the study and minimize the impact of any potential unobserved differences between pediatric practices and nonpediatric practices. Patients with end-stage renal disease or extremely high medical costs (>$100,000 per year) were excluded to limit the impact of extreme outliers on the cost analysis.

The pool of eligible controls was limited to later adopters of the PCMH model in order to reduce potential practice self-selection issues. Patients enrolled in control practices that received NCQA recognition in 2011 were included in analyses for the first 2 program years, but were removed from the final year’s analysis to avoid contaminating the non-PCMH group with late adopters, along with their matched cases. This reduced the numbers included in program year 3 to 1141 cases and 1141 controls in the overall analysis, and 109 cases and 131 controls in the highrisk subgroup. While the guidelines remained largely similar from 2008 to 2011, some changes were made to the NCQA requirements, and a crosswalk table detailing the differences is available from the NCQA.16 An attrition diagram detailing all exclusion steps appears in Appendix A.

Matching Technique

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