Why is this Topic Important to Wealth Managers? This blogticle presents discussion related to the new Affordable Care Act which affects Medicare participants. Thus, it is important for wealth managers to be informed on the changes which will begin to appear so that they may better prepare clients who receive Medicare benefits.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act collectively referred to as the Affordable Care Act,  includes a number of policies intended to help physicians, hospitals, and other caregivers improve the safety and quality of patient care and make health care more affordable. The idea is by focusing on the needs of patients and linking payments to outcomes, delivery system reforms should help improve the health of individuals and communities and slow national health care cost growth.
On March 31, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Service released proposed new rules to help doctors, hospitals, and other providers better coordinate care for Medicare patients through Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
ACOs are designed to create incentives for health care providers to work together to treat an individual patient across care settings – including doctor’s offices, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. The Medicare Shared Savings Program will reward ACOs that lower growth in health care costs while meeting performance standards on quality of care and putting patients first. Patient and provider participation in an ACO is purely voluntary.
Today, more than half of Medicare beneficiaries have five or more chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and kidney disease. These patients often receive care from multiple physicians. A failure to coordinate care can often lead to patients not getting the care they need, receiving duplicative care, and being at an increased risk of suffering medical errors. On average, each year, one in seven Medicare patients admitted to a hospital has been subject to a harmful medical mistake in the course of their care. And nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from the hospital is readmitted within 30 days – a readmission many patients could have avoided if their care outside of the hospital had been aggressive and better coordinated.
Improving coordination and communication among physicians and other providers and suppliers through Accountable Care Organizations may help improve the care Medicare beneficiaries receive, while also helping lower costs. According to the analysis of the proposed regulation for ACOs, Medicare could potentially save as much as $960 million over three years.
Under the proposed rule, an ACO refers to a group of providers and suppliers of services (e.g., hospitals, physicians, and others involved in patient care) that will work together to coordinate care for the patients they serve with Medicare. The goal of an ACO is to deliver seamless, high quality care for Medicare beneficiaries. The ACO would be a patient-centered organization where the patient and providers are “true partners” in care decisions.
Any patient who has multiple doctors probably understands the frustration of fragmented and disconnected care: lost or unavailable medical charts, duplicated medical procedures, or having to share the same information over and over with different doctors. Accountable Care Organizations are designed to lift this burden from patients, while improving the partnership between patients and doctors in making health care decisions. People with Medicare will hopefully have better control over their health care, and in turn their doctors can provide better care because they will have better information about their patients’ medical history and can communicate with a patient’s other doctors. Medicare beneficiaries whose doctors participate in an ACO will still have a full choice of providers and can still choose to see doctors outside of the ACO. In addition, patients choosing to receive care from providers participating in ACOs will have access to information about how well their doctors, hospitals, or other caregivers are meeting quality standards.
Tomorrow’s blogticle will continue to discuss important planning aspects of 2011.
We invite your opinions and comments by posting them below, or by calling the Panel of Experts.
 Public Law 111-148; Pub. L. 111-152.
 Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. MedPac Report to Congress: Promoting Greater Efficiency in Medicare. June 2007. Medicare Payment Advisory Commission.
 Daniel R. Levinson, Adverse Events in Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare Beneficiaries, Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, November 2010.
 Stephen F. Jencks, M.D., M.P.H., Mark V. Williams, M.D., and Eric A. Coleman, M.D., M.P.H. Rehospitalizations among Patients in the Medicare Fee-for-Service Program. N Engl J Med 2009; 360:1418-1428.April 2009.