Accountable care organizations take up only seven pages of the massive new health law yet have become one of the most talked about provisions. This latest model for delivering services offers doctors and hospitals financial incentives to provide good quality care to Medicare beneficiaries while keeping down costs. A cottage industry of consultants has sprung up to help even ordinary hospitals become the first ACOs on the block.
Yet the concept has been short on details. ACOs have been compared to the elusive unicorn: everyone seems to know what it looks like, but no one has actually seen one. But the health care industry has already embarked on a frenzied quest to create them as quickly as possible. Today, after many delays and false starts, the Obama administration proposed guidelines on how ACOs will work.
Here is a brief guide to what we know about ACOs.