Mary D. Strasser highlights Essentia’s success with value-based care at NAACOS spring conference

May 06, 2024  By: Louie St. George

NAACOS spring conference logo

Essentia Health began its journey to value-based care in 2005. Almost 20 years later, we continue to be recognized by our peers across the country for the success we've experienced with the model.

Mary D. Strasser, senior vice president of population health at Essentia, was invited to present at the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations' spring conference in April in Baltimore, Maryland. Strasser was a panelist for a session titled "keys to ACO success." The theme was creating a culture that embraces value over volume.

Value-based arrangements emphasize preventive care to improve patient outcomes and reduce health care costs. It's a marked shift from the traditional fee-for-service approach, which encourages more frequent patient visits. Through value-based programs, health systems are incentivized by Medicare, Medicaid or commercial health insurers for delivering high-quality care along with a reduction in costs. For example, if a hospital minimizes unnecessary emergency department visits, it may share in some of the resulting savings.

The opposite is also true. Failure to meet specific quality benchmarks or reduce costs may lead to financial penalties.

Strasser called it "delivering health care in a different way." In value-based care, health systems really are betting on themselves. They are expressing confidence in their ability to improve quality and subsequently bring down the cost of care.

"We provide very high-quality care," Strasser said of Essentia. "We take great care of our communities and our patients. You wouldn't embark on this type of journey and take risks if you weren't confident in your ability to serve your patients and communities."

Strasser noted the importance of preventive care.

"When we focus on keeping people healthy, it costs less," she said. "Office visits cost less than hospitalizations. By proactively managing chronic illnesses, we can prevent hospitalizations. And we can reduce the total cost of care and earn incentives that support our continued investment in this journey."

Essentia has been an ACO since 2012. ACOs emphasize providing the right level of care at the right time, "with the goal of avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors," according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Before the NAACOS conference, Strasser was on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. There, she met with staff members from the offices of Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland) and Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana), who had invited Essentia CEO Dr. David Herman to D.C. last May to testify about rural health care. Dr. Herman focused on Essentia’s leadership in value-based care. From 2018 to 2021, we removed more than $100 million from the cost of care. For Medicare patients alone, we saved taxpayers nearly $60 million in health care costs over the past five years.

Health care, especially rural health care, is facing intense financial and structural challenges. Value-based care is one way health systems can maximize their resources and navigate some of those challenges.

"Things are different in health care now. We are faced with staffing challenges and escalating costs," Strasser said. "So you have to be committed to delivering health care in a different way, in a way that is high-quality and cost-conscious."

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