Let the race begin: Final ACO rules announced

Well, there you have it. The CMS recently released the final rules for Medicare’s accountable care organizations (ACOs). HIStalk did a fine job of summing up the differences between the final and preliminary versions:

  • Quality measures reduced from 65 to 33
  • Use of an EHR is not a requirement to participate
  • Introduction of a savings-only track without financial risk during the initial contract period
  • CHCs and rural health clinics now have an option to lead ACOs
  • A longer phase-in for reporting and performance measures
  • Multiple start dates established
  • CMS will provide approved marketing guidelines and language (so ACOs don’t have to wait for CMS approval, as was stated in preliminary rules)

According to the CMS, the preliminary elicited more than 1,200 comments, which helped shape the final iteration we now see. Great to see the healthcare community so vocal and active. Even better that the CMS listened.

But now that we have the final rules, it’s time to get to work. Sure, additional rules are likely to follow. Also, as real-world lessons bubble to the surface, there will be changes, adaptations and modifications. Nothing is likely to remain static for very long. More than a little reminiscent of how Meaningful Use unfolded – and continues to unfold. Nevertheless, with clear guidelines in place, those of you in technology-oriented roles will find even more complexity working its way into your daily lives. As if you needed any more…

InformationWeek recently highlighted an interesting report – “Preparing for Accountable Care: The Role of Health IT in Building Capability” (full version available here). There’s one message resonating with crystalline clarity throughout the report: Information technology has a critical role to play in the ACO model.

All right, that seems obvious. But technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s up to those of you who understand IT’s potential and limitations to share your insight and knowledge. Because the ACO model implies (and demands) such deep organizational changes, many people in your specific organization will find themselves involved. Amidst all the ensuing politics and confusion, the strategic planning and trial-and-error, it’s easy for the rational-minded soul to lose patience and succumb to frustration.

Don’t let that happen. Make sure everyone understands your position and that IT’s role is not misunderstood, overstated or ignored. Daunting, I know, but the stakes are high. Assumptions made in your absence today will only drop a mountain of pain on your desk tomorrow.

Jared Blankenship

Jared Blankenship likes words. He likes to read them. He likes to write them. And he likes to share them. That pretty much explains his decade spent in business and technology journalism. Rich in complexity and perspectives, the healthcare industry eventually replaced journalism. Jared has spent almost six years in the healthcare IT, humbled daily by the new things he learns and grateful to those willing to share their knowledge. He counts his time spent volunteering in a local ICU and onsite participation in two major Cerner EMR deployments as his most valued. And he looks forward to adding more.

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