Regulatory Neutrality Is Essential To Establishing A Level Playing Field For Accountable Care Organizations
Author: Gary E. Bacher, Michael E. Chernew, Daniel P. Kessler, Stephen M. Weiner
Accountable care organizations (ACOs) are among the most widely discussed models for encouraging movement away from fee-for-service payment arrangements. Although ACOs have the potential to slow health spending growth and improve quality of care, regulating them poses special challenges. Regulations, particularly those that affect both ACOs and Medicare Advantage plans, could inadvertently favor or disfavor certain kinds of providers or payers. Such favoritism could drive efficient organizations from the market and thus increase costs or reduce quality of and access to care. To avoid this type of outcome, we propose a general principle: Regulation of ACOs should strive to preserve a level playing field among different kinds of organizations seeking the same cost, quality, and access objectives. This is known as regulatory neutrality. We describe the implications of regulatory neutrality in four key areas: antitrust, financial solvency regulation, Medicare governance requirements, and Medicare payment models. We also discuss issues relating to short-term versus long-term perspectives—to promote the goal of regulatory neutrality and allow the most efficient organizations to prevail in the marketplace.