HHS announces 106 new ACOs, including three affiliated with Walgreens

Walgreens' Crawford suggests pharmacy is 'aligned with healthcare reform'

DEERFIELD, Ill. — Advocare Walgreens Well Network, Diagnostic Clinic Walgreens Well Network and Scott & White Walgreens Well Network have been selected as three of 106 new Accountable Care Organizations in Medicare, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday.

“Accountable Care Organizations save money for Medicare and deliver higher-quality care to people with Medicare,” Sebelius said. “Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, more doctors and hospitals are working together to give people with Medicare the high-quality care they expect and deserve.”

More and more of that care is taking place in more convenient settings like retail pharmacy, Kermit Crawford, Walgreens' president pharmacy, health and wellness, shared with reporters during a press conference following the company's annual shareholder meeting Wednesday. "One of the things that I think about is how do we expand into additional retail healthcare services, preventative services," he said. That kind of mindset really all started with flu shots, he added. "Flu shots gave us the confidence that patients would allow pharmacists to do more than dispense pills. Now we have the confidence to bring our pharmacists out from behind the counter where they can actually engage patients on consultant type services, medication therapy management, health testing as well as around [immunizations]."

Crawford noted that Walgreens, across all of its platforms to include Take Care Health clinics and its specialty and infusion pharmacy operations, is focused on expanding the purview of what many consider retail pharmacy today. "As we expand beyond traditional preventative healthcare services, it's all designed to [compliment our core pharmacy business]," he said. "What you're seeing are pharmacists are playing a greater role in the accountable care network as a part of the Affordable Care Act," Crawford added. "If you think about the reason for healthcare reform, it is about providing convenient access to affordable care. … We feel we are really aligned with healthcare reform." 

The ACO group HHS announced today also includes 15 Advance Payment Model ACOs, physician-based or rural providers who would benefit from greater access to capital to invest in staff, electronic health record systems or other infrastructure required to improve care coordination. Medicare will recoup advance payments over time through future shared savings. In addition to these ACOs, last year CMS launched the Pioneer ACO program for large provider groups able to take greater financial responsibility for the costs and care of their patients over time. In total, Medicare’s ACO partners will serve more than 4 million beneficiaries nationwide. 

The new ACOs include a diverse cross-section of physician practices across the country. Roughly half of all ACOs are physician-led organizations that serve fewer than 10,000 beneficiaries. Approximately 20% of ACOs include community health centers, rural health centers and critical access hospitals that serve low-income and rural communities. 

ACOs must meet quality standards to ensure that savings are achieved through improving care coordination and providing care that is appropriate, safe and timely. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has established 33 quality measures on care coordination and patient safety, appropriate use of preventive health services, improved care for at-risk populations, and patient and caregiver experience of care. Federal savings from this initiative are up to $940 million over four years.



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