ACOs cut medical costs without raising drug spending, study finds

Accountable care organizations helped reduced Medicare medical costs without increasing prescription drug spending, according to a recently published analysis.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, was the first of its kind to dive into how the ACO model impacted Medicare Part D drug spending over the course of 2012, the first year ACOs were in place.

The analysis, published in Medical Care, compared outcomes of more than 316,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries participating in an ACO in 2012 with a sample of nearly 560,000 beneficiaries not involved in an ACO.

ACOs helped cut an average of $345 per person in Medicare costs during the first year, the analysis found. Beneficiaries who participated in an ACO had no significant changes in their drug spending, total prescriptions filled or percent of Medicare claims for brand-name drugs, researchers reported.

“We found that Medicare beneficiaries with Part D prescription coverage with six or more chronic conditions who were aligned to an ACO had the highest savings on medical costs — $966 per patient in 2012, compared to their peers not assigned to an ACO,” said lead author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., in a release on the findings published Monday. “This is encouraging because it demonstrates that ACO providers may be prioritizing their focus on beneficiaries with multiple chronic conditions.”

Researchers plan on comparing the impact of medication prescribing and adherence on outcomes of beneficiaries in ACOs and those who are not, Zhang noted.

“We could link changes in medication adherence for cardiovascular drugs with heart attacks to see if there is a clear difference in prescribing practices and patient outcomes,” Zhang said.