CMS: 480 ACOs Now in Medicare Shared Savings Program, a New High

Jan. 30, 2024
CMS officials announced the latest numbers in the Medicare Shared Savings Program, ACO REACH model, and Kidney Care Choices model, with 480 ACOs now participating in the MSSP

Officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on Jan. 29 the latest numbers for participation in accountable care organization (ACO) programs it sponsors, with a total of 480 ACOs now participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP), the largest number to date. In addition, CMS officials announced on Monday that 245 organizations are continuing their participation in to CMS Innovation Center models—the ACO REACH (ACO Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health) model, and the Kidney Care Choices (KCC) model.

All of this was shared in a press release posted to CMS’s website on Monday. That press release began thus: “Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced increased participation in CMS’ accountable care organization (ACO) initiatives in 2024, which will increase the quality of care for more people with Medicare. Of note, CMS is announcing that 19 newly formed accountable care organizations (ACOs) in the Medicare Shared Savings Program (Shared Savings Program) are participating in a new, permanent payment option beginning in 2024 that is enabling these ACOs to receive more than $20 million in advance investment payments (AIPs) for caring for underserved populations. An additional 50 ACOs are new to the program in 2024, and 71 ACOs renewed their participation, bringing the total to 480 ACOs now participating in the Shared Savings Program, the largest ACO program in the country. CMS also announced that 245 organizations are continuing their participation in two CMS Innovation Center models — ACO Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (ACO REACH) and the Kidney Care Choices (KCC) models.” That figure of 480 ACOs in the MSSP is up from 456 participating as of a year ago, in January 2023, representing a 5.13-percentage increase in participation over one year ago.

The press release quoted CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure as stating that “One of CMS’ top priorities is to expand access to quality, affordable health coverage and care. Accountable care initiatives – which give more tools to health care providers to deliver better care and help people receive more coordinated care – through programs like the Medicare Shared Savings Program and the Innovation Center accountable care initiatives are critical to achieving this vision,” Brooks-LaSure stated.

The press release went on to explain that “Accountable care organizations are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care professionals that work together to give patients high-quality, coordinated service and health care, improve health outcomes, and manage costs. ACOs receiving AIPs are required to invest in health care infrastructure, staffing, and providing accountable care for underserved beneficiaries. These 19 new ACOs are hiring community health workers, utilizing health assessment and screening tools, and implementing quality improvement activities, such as case management systems, patient registries, and electronic quality reporting.”

Further, the press release noted, “In 2024, three innovative ACO initiatives continue to grow, enabling higher quality care for people with Traditional Medicare: The Shared Savings Program, the permanent ACO program; the ACO REACH Model, which intends to increase access to and improve care for underserved populations, including those in rural areas; and the Kidney Care Choices model, which focuses on coordinating care for people with Medicare with chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease so more people can live fuller and longer lives. Overall, in 2024 there are about 13.7 million people with Traditional Medicare aligned to an ACO. ACOs are now serving nearly half of the people with Traditional Medicare, a 3-percent increase since 2023. This growth in ACOs is important since ACOs have been shown to have superior quality performance compared to similar physician groups not participating in an ACO, and ACOs have generated year-over-year savings for the Medicare Trust Fund.”

What’s more, “In the 2023 Physician Fee Schedule final rule, CMS took several actions in the Shared Savings Program to better align value-based programs, drive growth in accountable care, and create a more equitable health care system including scaling components from an Innovation Center model test that was shown to produce savings and maintain quality in the Medicare program writ large. After CMS observed that the ACO Investment Model drove increased ACO participation in rural and underserved areas and saved dollars for the Medicare Trust Funds, CMS incorporated the most important elements into the Shared Savings Program as AIPs. Already in the first year of implementation, CMS is seeing increased participation among health care providers from rural and underserved areas, just like in the model test — yet another example of the value that the Innovation Center brings to CMS and the public.”

The press release went on to state that “These actions build on parts of previous ACO model tests, such as the Pioneer ACO Model and the Medicare ACO Track 1+ Model (Track 1+ Model), that have already been incorporated into the Shared Savings Program by informing the development of the higher risk tracks, which are selected by 65% of ACOs in the Shared Savings Program today. As a result, for 2024, the Shared Savings Program has 480 ACOs with 634,657 health care providers and organizations providing care to over 10.8 million people with Traditional Medicare. With the addition of the ACOs receiving AIPs, ACOs are delivering care to people with Traditional Medicare in 9,032 Federally Qualified Health Centers, Rural Health Clinics, and critical access hospitals, an increase of 27% from 2023.”

“The new advance investment payments will enable health care providers in rural and other underserved areas to build the staffing, infrastructure, and care delivery improvements they need to succeed as ACOs providing high quality, equitable, accountable care to their communities,” said Meena Seshamani, M.D., Ph.D., Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare. “Everyone deserves access to the type of whole-person care delivered by ACOs.”

ACO REACH and KCC Models seen growing

CMS officials on Monday highlighted the advances taking place in two other programs besides the MSSP program. “For 2024, the ACO REACH Model has 122 ACOs with 173,004 health care providers and organizations providing care to an estimated 2.6 million people with Traditional Medicare,” the press released reported. “This model has 1,042 Federally Qualified Health Centers, Rural Health Clinics, and Critical Access Hospitals participating in 2024 — more than a 25-percent increase from 2023. Increasing the number and reach of ACOs in underserved communities will help close racial and ethnic disparities that have been identified among people with Traditional Medicare in accountable care relationships.” And, “For 2024, the KCC model includes 123 Kidney Contracting Entities (KCEs) and CMS Kidney Care First (KCF) Practices, which are accountable for the quality and care of their aligned people with Medicare. The KCC Model has more than 9,227 participating health care providers and organizations, a 10% increase from 2023, serving 282,335 people with Medicare who have chronic kidney disease and end stage renal disease in 2024.”

“The strong participation in our accountable care models in 2024 will help more people access high-quality, coordinated health care that will improve their quality of life,” said CMS Deputy Administrator and Innovation Center Director Liz Fowler. “The ACO REACH and KCC models are a cornerstone of our strategy to transform the health care system, focus on equity in everything we do, and deliver person-centered care that meets people where they are.”  

NAACOS applauds growth

Leaders at NAACOS, the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of ACOs, the umbrella organization representing the interests of ACOs nationwide, were quick to applaud the news. In a statement, NAACOS president and CEO Clif Gaus, Sc.D., noted that “More Medicare patients than ever are being cared for by accountable care organizations this year, according to data released today from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Nearly 13.4 million beneficiaries are in the now 122 Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health (REACH) Model ACOs and the 481 ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program, the country’s dominant value-based payment program.”

Gaus went on to state that “NAACOS is happy to see growth in these important CMS programs, which was helped by changes put in place this year to help more provider organizations join value-based care models.  However,” he added, “more work must be done to extend value-based care and reach CMS’s goal of having all patients in an accountable care relationship by 2030. To do so, NAACOS recommends that CMS enact policies that keep current ACOs in the program while bringing new ones in. This includes correcting the benchmark ratchet that will make it more difficult for ACOs to create sustainable savings, improving quality reporting requirements to make it less burdensome for ACOs, updating patient engagement requirements, and leveraging MSSP as an innovation platform with hybrid primary care payments and more options for risk.”

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