4 min read

ACO REACH: Program launch and lessons learned

Written by

Srishti Mirchandani

ACO REACH: Program launch and lessons learned

In January, Belong Health’s ACO became a participant in ACO REACH, a redesigned version of the Global and Professional Direct Contracting Program from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The program — whose acronym stands for Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health — allows provider groups to collaborate with one another to deliver and champion value-based care for  Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) populations. 

As the development of Belong’s own ACO REACH program has unfolded, we’ve learned an incredible amount about our communities, beneficiaries, and partners. We’ve also witnessed many of the benefits of ACO REACH first-hand — and we’d love to share just a few of those with you:


ACO REACH strengthens our flexibility and innovation

ACO REACH isn’t new only to Belong, it’s a fairly new operation, in general. That reality has called for a powerful commitment to collaboration between the 132 REACH ACOs, including Belong, and CMS, as we’ve essentially “piloted” our venture together.

There have been no shortage of dates, deadlines, and data required to satisfy the specific needs of an ACO model, and Belong has proven to be up to those challenges and more. Frankly, we thrive on our ability to navigate so much nuance throughout this whole process.

We’ve learned a lot, for example, about the communication preferences of the communities we serve. We’ve recognized e-mail, at least for many within the Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) population, is not the most effective avenue for information and engagement. Physical letters in the mail, or phone calls from a doctor’s office, have yielded far better results as we’ve reached out to articulate the benefits of the ACO REACH program with a specific, human touch.

We’ve adapted. We’ve optimized our message within the clear boundaries of CMS guardrails, leaning on the methods of communication our audiences strongly prefer. We’ve paid close attention to the readability of our content, even if that means many rounds of edits to ensure effective outreach. And the results are mounting daily.

ACO REACH thrives on connection and collaboration 

As we’ve made our way through the development and refinement of this exciting model participation, we’re grateful to have enjoyed monthly touchpoints with our ACO Board. We’ve also been able to huddle monthly (and sometimes even more frequently!) with each individual provider group participating in our ACO this year — and we’ve felt galvanized in our efforts every time.

With each new dialogue, we’re reminded ACO REACH truly is a community — one that can help us all better understand the unique, local opportunities and challenges that lie within the initiatives we propose. For too long, knowledge and collaboration have been made subject to chance and privilege within the healthcare space.

ACO REACH, in contrast, offers a platform and resources with which to dissolve those silos and expand our impact. In fact, we’ve already made meaningful connections  with providers working towards shared goals.

And here’s just one more great example of ACO REACH’s community power at work:

Earlier this year, during an ACO virtual session hosted by CMS, Belong Health  physician leader Dr. Ramon Jacobs-Shaw forged a quick friendship with another physician who runs a well-established ACO in Texas. Through this connection, the Belong team gained incredible insight into best practices: we learned not only how that Texas ACO had reached a financial return on investment, but also how it had moved the needle on significant clinical outcomes and how it had lowered its beneficiaries' gaps in access to care. 

Imagine our fortune at having tapped into such a rich vein of knowledge, opportunity, and solidarity at just one virtual event. Such an outcome is far less likely within other programs, where providers may compete within the same market and are incentivized to keep their insights and strategies close to their vests.

ACO REACH infuses its conversations with a different, more optimistic mindset — one that deeply benefits our beneficiaries and their range of complex needs. It’s a space in which doctors are encouraged and empowered to help each other — and, ultimately, their patients — by exchanging knowledge without limiting their own opportunities.

For our community-focused, equity-conscious mission at Belong, nothing could be better.


ACO REACH strengthens our central mission of healthcare equity

Health equity is articulated as being such a priority of ACO REACH, it’s literally the “E” in the name. That’s a remarkable ambition, and one that, if fully realized, aligns naturally with the central mission of Belong Health. With health equity explicitly situated as a central tenet of the ACO REACH program, we feel empowered and encouraged to honor it right alongside financial results and clinical quality results.

Since our inception, our work at Belong has regularly engaged with a wide array of social determinants of health. We’re always thinking up ways to capture and analyze those features well, and we know countless groups and geographies can benefit from the data we marshal, whether by using it to inform risk levels, to identify obstacles or to resource teams.

We look forward to working with CMS to put even more support and resources around its own interest of equity. Doing so, we are confident, will help standardize language around services, make data use more impactful, and ultimately accelerate the closure of life-threatening equity gaps in healthcare.

That’s just the kind of mission we love to partner up on – because it’s the very same one that gave birth to Belong Health in the first place.

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