The most important health-care reform story people aren’t talking about

at 12:47 PM ET, 03/31/2011

(Courtesy of Lightchaser Photography - Reuters)
In one of those stories that seems boring but is actually really important, the Department of Health and Human Services released the rules (PDF — and a long one) that will govern Accountable Care Organizations going forward. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Don Berwick summarizes here. The bottom line is that ACOs are the new hotness in medicine. The idea is that rather than getting your care from one specialist after the other, each of whom is only responsible for their tiny slice of your treatment, you’ll get your care from one organization that’s responsible for coordinating all of your treatments and gets paid based on how well you do rather than how much they do to you.

When I say things like “controlling health-care costs is about treating sick people,” ACOs are the sort of thing I’m talking about. If they work as well as their advocates hope, costs could go down and quality could go up. If they don’t, it’s back to the drawing board. But most people don’t know much about them, even as their success or failure is ultimately the sort of thing that will determine whether the Medicare cuts can stick.

For more on ACOs, NPR has a good explainer. But if you’re the type of person who could do the explaining yourself, head over to the Incidental Economist, where they’re trying to crowdsource their way through the new regulations. Getting that done would be a real service.

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