Massachusetts launches the nation's first accountable care certification program

Massachusetts has launched a new accountable care certification program designed to implement statewide, all-payer standards as part of care delivery.

The program, the first of its kind in the country, is already off to a strong start, according to the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC), which announced it has certified 17 organizations, including hospitals, health systems and physician groups. 

"The ACO Certification Program will bring new transparency and information to the public regarding how ACOs are structured and operating today," David Seltz, executive director of the HPC, said in the announcement. "The HPC expects to analyze the information received and identify best practices and areas of improvement for payers, policymakers, researchers, providers and consumers." 

Among the organizations that have already been certified: Atrius Health, a nonprofit network of primary care and specialty care providers based in Newton, which has had success as both a Medicare Pioneer and Next Generation ACO. Steven Strongwater, M.D., CEO of Atrius Health, told FierceHealthcare that he was thrilled that the state has put together a formal structure to shape the accountable care process. He said it will also allow existing ACOs that participate in the program to strengthen their work.  

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Marci Sindell, Atrius' chief strategy officer and senior vice president of external affairs, told FierceHealthcare that providers benefited from HCP's "thoughtful" process in crafting the certification. Organizations that applied for the certification were required to submit information on 15 metrics, including patient-centered governance, previous experience in risk-based contracts and population health management.

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"We think it helps create a structure that supports our vision of transforming care to improve lives and help improve the care and outcomes for citizens in the Commonwealth," Strongwater said. 

Atrius' immediate goal is to reduce medical expenses over the next three to five years through its MassHealth ACO, while also learning best practices from their peers in Massachusetts and around the country, he said. 

For providers looking to take the plunge into accountable care, Strongwater said it's crucial that they believe it's possible to offer better care at a lower cost, in addition to the needed investment in technology infrastructure. 

"You can convince yourself that the goal is to take better care of patients and do it in the most economical way," Strongwater said. "You have to psychologically believe that is feasible."