Medicare Spending after 3 Years of the Medicare Shared Savings Program

N Engl J Med. 2018 Sep 20;379(12):1139-1149. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa1803388. Epub 2018 Sep 5.


Background: Health care providers who participate as an accountable care organization (ACO) in the voluntary Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) have incentives to lower spending for Medicare patients while achieving high performance on a set of quality measures. Little is known about the extent to which early savings achieved by ACOs in the program have grown and been replicated by ACOs that entered the program in later years. ACOs that are physician groups have stronger incentives to lower spending than hospital-integrated ACOs.

Methods: Using fee-for-service Medicare claims from 2009 through 2015, we performed difference-in-differences analyses to compare changes in Medicare spending for patients in ACOs before and after entry into the MSSP with concurrent changes in spending for local patients served by providers not participating in the MSSP (control group). We estimated differential changes (i.e., the between-group difference in the change from the pre-entry period) separately for hospital-integrated ACOs and physician-group ACOs that entered the MSSP in 2012, 2013, or 2014.

Results: MSSP participation was associated with differential spending reductions in physician-group ACOs. These reductions grew with longer participation in the program and were significantly greater than the reductions in hospital-integrated ACOs. By 2015, the mean differential change in per-patient Medicare spending was -$474 (-4.9% of the pre-entry mean, P<0.001) for physician-group ACOs that entered in 2012, -$342 (-3.5% of the pre-entry mean, P<0.001) for those that entered in 2013, and -$156 (-1.6% of the pre-entry mean, P=0.009) for those that entered in 2014. The corresponding differential changes for hospital-integrated ACOs were -$169 (P=0.005), -$18 (P=0.78), and $88 (P=0.14), which were significantly lower than for physician-group ACOs (P<0.001). Spending reductions in physician-group ACOs constituted a net savings to Medicare of $256.4 million in 2015, whereas spending reductions in hospital-integrated ACOs were offset by bonus payments.

Conclusions: After 3 years of the MSSP, participation in shared-savings contracts by physician groups was associated with savings for Medicare that grew over the study period, whereas hospital-integrated ACOs did not produce savings (on average) during the same period. (Funded by the National Institute on Aging.).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Accountable Care Organizations / economics*
  • Accountable Care Organizations / statistics & numerical data
  • Aged
  • Cost Savings*
  • Economics, Hospital
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / economics*
  • Female
  • Group Practice / economics
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics*
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms*
  • United States