Anthem ACOs improve care quality one year in

Accountable care organizations operated by Anthem Blue Cross in California already have improved medical treatments for patients in only one year of operation, the insurer said.

Anthem measured the quality of care delivered to members participating in its ACOs and compared the data between 2012 and 2011, finding each of the provider groups improved in most of the measures. For example, mammograms increased by 35 percent and appropriate prescribing of antibiotics for bronchitis increased by 44 percent.

"These results are a testament to the power of coordinated care," Anthem Medical Director Michael Belman said last week in a statement. "One of our tasks for the coming year is to help share best practices between our ACO partners and provide them with even better information so they can more precisely target patient interventions. With these improved quality outcomes, we can expect significant savings in the coming years."

Anthem noted that although most ACOs function like HMO organizations, requiring members only to see certain providers, its ACO program uses the PPO model to give members more choice between hospitals and doctors. As such, Anthem's findings may indicate ACOs can benefit PPO populations as well, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

However, Anthem hasn't yet achieved savings as a result of its ACO partnerships. The insurer expects "savings to come further down the line after the initial investments to improve the health of this population" are made, spokesperson Darrel Ng told the Business Times.

Many insurers are implementing ACO programs of their own. For example, Aetna's ACO partnerships value communication with providers, Cigna's ACOs focus on care coordinators and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas highlights technology as a means to a successful ACO.

To learn more:
- here's the Anthem statement
- read the San Francisco Business Times article