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The American Journal of Managed Care May 2018
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Changes in Specialty Care Use and Leakage in Medicare Accountable Care Organizations
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Changes in Specialty Care Use and Leakage in Medicare Accountable Care Organizations

Michael L. Barnett, MD, MS, and J. Michael McWilliams, MD, PhD
Reducing specialty leakage is promoted as crucial for accountable care organizations (ACOs). This study finds that Medicare ACOs had modest reductions in specialty use and minimal changes in leakage.
ABSTRACT

Objectives: Reducing leakage to outside specialists has been promoted as a key strategy for accountable care organizations (ACOs). We sought to examine changes in specialty care leakage and use associated with the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

Study Design: Analyses of trends in ACOs from 2010 to 2014 and quasi-experimental difference-in-differences analyses comparing changes for ACOs versus local non-ACO providers from before until after the start of ACO contracts, stratified by ACO specialty composition and year of MSSP entry.

Methods: We used Medicare claims for a 20% sample of beneficiaries attributed to ACOs or non-ACO providers. The main beneficiary-level outcome was the annual count of new specialist visits. ACO-level outcomes included the proportion of visits for ACO-attributed patients outside of the ACO (leakage) and proportion of ACO Medicare outpatient revenue devoted to ACO-attributed patients (contract penetration).

Results: Leakage of specialist visits decreased minimally from 2010 to 2014 among ACOs. Contract penetration also changed minimally but differed substantially by specialty composition (85% for the most primary care–oriented quartile vs 47% for the most specialty-oriented quartile). For the most primary care–oriented quartile of ACOs in 2 of 3 entry cohorts, MSSP participation was associated with differential reductions in new specialist visits (–0.04 visits/beneficiary in 2014 for the 2012 cohort; –5.4%; P <.001). For more specialty-oriented ACOs, differential changes in specialist visits were not statistically significant.

Conclusions: Leakage of specialty care changed minimally in the MSSP, suggesting ineffective efforts to reduce leakage. MSSP participation was associated with decreases in new specialty visits among primary care–oriented ACOs.

Am J Manag Care. 2018;24(5):e141-e149

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