Obama win bolsters hospital ACO, reform efforts

Cleveland Clinic: James Merlino talks about accountable care
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With last night's presidential win, providers can expect the healthcare reform law will stay on course. Their initiatives for the past two years--or those set forth years earlier--weren't in vain.

Although as of press-time there are still some undecided Senate races, the President's re-election bolsters hospital initiatives already set in motion.

James Merlino (pictured), chief experience officer at Cleveland Clinic and FierceHealthcare editorial advisory board member, said regardless of whether Obama or Romney had won, its priority was how to provide high-value care.

"It didn't really matter to us who won. We're marching toward healthcare reform and the things needed to really transform healthcare in the United States," Merlino said in an exclusive interview with FierceHealthcare.

Merlino noted that when you really boil down the candidates' healthcare platforms, Republicans and Democrats were aiming for the same thing.

"When you look at the platforms and the issues for both sides, they're very similar in what needs to be done in the system. I don't think anyone would disagree that we have an expensive system; we need to take costs out. We have a lot of uninsured patients; we need to make sure we're delivering care to them. The basic issues are the same."

Cleveland Clinic, notably located in a key state of Ohio, also was a  subject of discussion at the presidential debate for both Obama and Romney. Although both candidates had noted the work the Clinic is doing in managing population health, Obama pointed to the Clinic as a demonstration of cost-effective, value-based care, and Romney saw it as an example for private enterprise.

When asked how closely the Clinic follows politics and regulations that could flip every four years, Merlino said, "I don't think we follow politics as closely as we follow policy trends. There's a difference."

The major initiatives at the health system since Toby Cosgrove took the helm in 2004 have been electronic medical record expansion, patient-centered care and accountable care.

While Cleveland Clinic was not included in the initial Pioneer ACO Model, Merlino said leaders are considering different ACO payment models--commercial and Medicaid--and are in the middle of the planning process.

Although some hospitals were waiting on the edge of their seats for Nov. 6 to come, stalling strategic planning is an "irrational strategy," Merlino said.

It's not about being reactive; it's about strategically planning your organization, he explained.

"For the vast majority of health systems around the country, the election validates what they have been working towards anyway," according to Burlington, Mass.-based Kimberly Smith (pictured), senior vice president and managing codirector of the Eastern region at Witt Kieffer and former CEO of Jewish Memorial Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Boston. "Obama will continue to push forward with healthcare reform," she told FierceHealthcare.

Smith noted the fence-sitters on ACOs were in the minority, but the election may push them in that direction of alternative payment models.

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