(HealthDay News) — The Pioneer accountable care organization (ACO) program correlated with reductions in low-value services during its first year, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Aaron L. Schwartz, PhD, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues compared use of low-value services between Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries attributed to health care provider groups that entered the Pioneer program (ACO group) and other health care providers (control group). 

Low-value service use was examined before and after Pioneer ACO contracts began.

Trends in the use of low-value services were similar for the ACO and control groups during the precontract period, the researchers found. There was a differential reduction of 0.8 low-value services per 100 beneficiaries for the ACO group in association with the first year of ACO contract (P<.001), corresponding to differential reductions of 1.9% in service quantity and 4.5% in spending on low-value services (P=.004). 

Greater service reductions were seen for ACOs with higher than their markets’ mean baseline levels of low-value service use (−1.2 services per 100 beneficiaries; P<.001), compared with ACOs with use below the mean (−0.2 services per 100 beneficiaries; P=.41; P=.003 for test of difference between subgroups).

“Accountable care organization-like risk contracts may be able to discourage use of low-value services even without specifying services to target,” the researchers wrote.

Two researchers reported consulting for the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission on use of measures for low-value care. One author disclosed being a partner in VBID Health which has a contract with Milliman to develop and market a tool to help insurers and employers quantify spending on low-value services.


  1. Schwartz AL et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.4525.