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Health Aff (Millwood). 2011 Sep;30(9):1734-42. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0264.

Medical group responses to global payment: early lessons from the 'Alternative Quality Contract' in Massachusetts.

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  • 1Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA.


The largest insurer in Massachusetts, Blue Cross Blue Shield, began a new program in 2009 that combines global payments-fixed payments for the care of patient populations during a specified time period-with large potential quality bonuses for medical groups. In interviews with representatives of the participating medical groups, many of which could be considered prototype accountable care organizations, we found that most groups initially focused on two goals: building the infrastructure to help primary care providers earn quality bonuses; and managing referrals to direct patients to lower-cost settings. Groups are working to overcome numerous challenges, which include improving their data management capabilities; managing conflicting incentives in their fee-for-service contracts; and establishing cultures that emphasize teamwork, patient-centered care, and effective stewardship of medical resources. The participating medical groups are diverse in terms of size, organizational structure, and prior experience with managed care contracting. If the groups can succeed in reducing annual growth in health spending by half over the five-year contract, it could signal that even newly formed accountable care organizations can navigate a shift from fee-for-service to population-based payment models.

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