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The state has a vision for changing the way Arkansans pay for health care. It is moving toward ending “fee-for-service” payments, in which each procedure a patient undergoes for a single medical condition is billed separately. Instead, the costs of all the hospitalizations, office visits, tests and treatments will be rolled into one “episode-based” or “bundled” payment. “In three to five years,” John M. Selig, the head of Arkansas’s Department of Human Services, told me, “we aspire to have 90 to 95 percent of all our medical expenditures off fee-for-service.”
This is how it will work: Medicaid and private insurers will identify the doctor or hospital who is primarily responsible for the patient’s care — the “quarterback,” as Andrew Allison, the state’s Medicaid director, put it. The quarterback will be reimbursed for the total cost of an episode of care — a hip or knee replacement; treatment for an upper respiratory infection or congestive heart failure; or perinatal care (the baby’s delivery, as well as some care before and after). The quarterbacks will also be responsible for the cost and quality of the services provided to their patients, and will receive quarterly reports on those metrics from the state (for Medicaid patients) or private insurers. If they have delivered good care based on agreed-upon standards, and if their billings come in lower than the agreed-upon level, they can keep a portion of the difference. If their billings come in above an acceptable level — usually because they have ordered too many unnecessary tests, office visits or inappropriate treatments — they will have to pay money back to the state or insurer.