Miami doctors, Walgreens join race for ACOs


Two groups of Miami-Dade doctors and Walgreens received federal approval Thursday to form new accountable care organizations.

In a race to reshape healthcare delivery in the country, two Miami-Dade doctors groups and a Walgreens entity were approved by federal officials to become accountable care organizations, Medicare officials announced.

Baroma Health Partners, South Florida ACO and the drugstore chain were on a list of 106 groups receiving approval to offer integrated care that is intended to improve quality and lower healthcare costs, with the providers sharing in any savings. Sixteen are in Florida.

The concept, part of the Affordable Care Act, has sparked a race among major healthcare providers throughout the country. Many hospitals are hiring doctors and other groups are organizing networks that are expected to create a major shift in the nation’s healthcare system.

Many healthcare experts believe growing numbers of doctors will soon work for large entities. Jorge Acevedo-Crespo, a Miami pulmonologist, said he brought together the South Florida ACO to avoid that trend.

“I think it’s best for doctors to control healthcare — not hospitals, not insurance companies,” Acevedo-Crespo said Thursday. His group is wholly owned and operated by the 75 doctors who make up the ACO.

Baroma Health Partners, with offices on South Dixie, consists of about 75 contracted groups representing about 135 doctors, according to Chief Information Officer Ricardo Matos. Baroma is a for-profit entity that “has started the process to become a publicly traded company, Matos said.

One reason commonly given by Medicare for setting up ACOs is that many patients discharged from hospitals are quickly readmitted because they do not take required medications or have follow-up visits with their doctors.

Walgreens, the national drugstore chain, believes it can help fix those kinds of problems, starting with the three ACOs it has set up, including one in the Tampa area.

Jeffrey Kang, the physician who is running the Walgreens ACO effort, said one example of how coordinated care can work is a Walgreens pilot program in which pharmacists checked to see that patients were taking the proper meds after being released from hospitals. That program reduced readmissions by 40 percent, Kang said.

“Walgreens is a very natural partner” for physicians, Kang said. In Tampa, it is working with Diagnostic Clinics, which employs doctors. Many of the chain’s stores already contain Take Care clinics, which employ nurse practitioners to treat minor ailments.

“Walgreens provides 365-day-a-year, convenient, accessible, face-to-face health offering for the public,” Kang said. “We’re now the largest provider of vaccinations in the country. And we’re second in hypertension and diabetes screening.”

Walgreens is heavily promoting its virtues as it enters a competition that is growing increasingly intense. Fifteen other Florida entities were granted ACOs Thursday — most of them in the Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville area.

Florida Blue has already set up informal ACOs, with Holy Cross doctors in Fort Lauderdale and with Baptist Health South Florida and a group of oncologists in Miami-Dade. But the state’s largest health insurer has not yet sought official federal approval, which carries with it a complex series of requirements.

Acevedo-Crespo said his group was approached by entrepreneurs willing to do the immense paperwork for federal approval.

“Wall Street types — they’ll come in and promise you the world and heaven,” he said. Instead, the Miami-Dade doctors turned to the Palm Beach Accountable Care Organization, a physician-owned group that had already gone through the process for its own group.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that South Florida ACO was the only ACO in Miami-Dade approved.

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