Value based care has gone from dream to reality. Accompanying this transition is a massive transfer of risk from third party payers to providers. We are, in essence, becoming insurers! Physicians have come to accept this new world, but are not in a position to truly understand it. The main reason is that we have never been trained to understand basic concepts in financial risk assessment.
The recent failure of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s ACO is the best example. “We were cutting costs and saving money and then paying a penalty on top of that,” said Dr. Robert A. Greene, an executive vice president of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system. “We would have loved to stay in the federal program, but it was just not sustainable.” In the end, Dartmouth, which was a pioneer in creating the ACO model, improved quality and reduced Medicare spending on hospitalizations, procedures, imaging and testing. Nevertheless, they miscalculated the financial risk of the ACO and had to shut it down.
Why did some of the smartest physicians in the country fail? It may be that we are terrible at understanding and pricing different kinds of risk. For example, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the number of air passengers fell while the number of miles driven increased – even though driving is exponentially riskier than flying. This so-called “9/11 Effect,” prompted by a fear of further terrorist attacks and a wish to avoid long waits in airport security lines, had the unintended consequence of creating 2,170 additional traffic fatalities in the three months following the collapse of the World Trade Center. Clearly, travelers did not make their risk calculations are based on objective measures.