The health care media are full of articles asserting that ACOs have proven their mettle in delivering health care of highest quality. Citing ACO quality reporting results, CMS and advocates point to the majority of ACOs passing CMS quality standards, and that ACOs are improving their results on quality measures over time. The vast majority of ACOs meet quality measures, with 92 percent passing the qualification for shared savings in 2019.
But is quality performance a distinguishing feature that ACOs can use competitively—and sustain the payment model’s long-term prospects? To earn permanency and competitive advantage, ACOs must show that the payment model galvanizes participating providers to perform better than non-ACO groups—specifically, direct contracting entities, Primary Care First groups, and equity-backed practice organizations. While difficult to measure, however, there is some evidence that there is little distinction in quality between regular physician groups and ACOs. We have also questioned whether savings levels have sufficiently advantaged ACOs to be able to argue for continuation of the payment model.