Editor's note: This article is part of a multi-page special report, 8 Ways to Fix the Affordable Care Act.
The GOP’s proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act have so far focused on health insurance coverage, cutting federal aid for Medicaid and targeting subsidies for those who purchase private insurance through the health insurance marketplace.
But there’s a lot more to the ACA than health insurance. Republican lawmakers would do well to take a closer look at other parts of the healthcare reform law, which focus on how the United States can deliver high-quality care even while controlling costs.
The ACA helped spur the transition away from fee-for-service reimbursement models that rewarded providers for treating large numbers of patients to value-based care payments, which reward providers who deliver evidence-based care with a focus on wellness and prevention.
And any revisions to the law should continue to support these endeavors—such as programs to reduce hospital readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions—that aim to improve patient outcomes while lowering overall healthcare costs.
It’s true that some physicians are reluctant to embrace value-based contracts, which they argue increase their patient loads and hold them responsible for overall wellness, which is often beyond their typical scope of practice or beyond their control if patients aren't compliant. Smaller hospitals and health systems may have trouble implementing quality-improvement changes, too.
But it’s too soon to give up on a model of care that strives to meet the Triple Aim and improve individual care, boost the health of patient populations and reduce overall costs.
The country must do something to address the quality of its healthcare. Although the United States spends more on healthcare than other wealthy nations do, we rank last in quality, equity, access, efficiency and care delivery. And we’ve come in dead last in quality for the past 13 years.
But it’s not for lack of trying.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is still experimenting with advanced payment models that reward providers for quality of care. Although the results have been a mixed bag, there are signs of progress.
Yes, several of the Pioneer accountable care organizations exited the model early on after suffering financial losses and struggling to meet the demands of the program. But other participants of the Pioneer model and the Shared Savings Program reported clinical successes as well as significant savings.
In response, CMS has adapted the models, offering providers options for lower and higher risk tracks.
Whereas some healthcare organizations took a wait-and-see approach to value-based care until one successful model emerged, many leaders say it takes time to see results and that what works in one region or for one organization won’t necessarily work somewhere else.
But the organizations that have made front-end investments to change their approaches to care delivery and have stuck with it are beginning to see their efforts pay off.
Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, for instance, has standardized care pathways to reduce variations in care, lower costs and increase quality. Its stroke care pathway has led to a 43% decrease in stroke mortality and a 25% decline in the cost of care.
And California-based Dignity Health has developed community partnerships to discharge homeless patients to a recuperation shelter and address the social determinants of health via a referral program to connect patients in need with outside agencies.
“All three [aims] are achievable, all three show progress and all three are vulnerable,” Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, said recently.
“It seems to me incumbent upon those who claim to lead healthcare and healthcare systems to defend that progress against threats."