Published on January 18, 2021

Essentia Health’s Welle-Powell to chair National Association of ACOs

Debbie Welle-Powell

Debbie Welle-Powell, chief population health officer at Essentia Health, has been elected to serve as chair of the National Association of ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations).

The National Association of ACOs fosters growth in the Accountable Care Organization (ACO) model of care. That model follows the Triple Aim — improving the patient experience, focusing on quality and satisfaction; improving population health; and reducing the cost of health care.

ACOs are a market-based solution to help lower the cost of health care spending, where groups of doctors, hospitals and other providers take responsibility for the total cost and quality of care for their patients. ACOs are incentivized to lower costs by spending less than pre-determined targets and hitting quality measures, earning the right to share generated savings.
The NAACOS board helps shape priorities, such as educating ACOs on operational and clinical best practices; providing uniformity in quality and performance measures; advocating on behalf of ACOs in Congress; and educating the public about the value of accountable care.

“The National Association of ACOs plays an important advocacy role for Accountable Care Organizations,” explains Welle-Powell, who is serving her fourth year on the board. “The chair works with the NAACOS CEO and executive committee to advance policy changes to agreements that ACOs have with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Our goal is to remove barriers facing members, improve quality and reduce administrative complexity.”

NAACOS also focuses on innovation, taking the learnings and expertise of health care organizations like Essentia and bringing them to a national stage. Recently, NAACOS was able to successfully lobby for a change to a Medicare program that used national statistics to compare costs of care. The cost of care in Midwestern states, such as Minnesota and North Dakota, was compared to organizations in California or Florida. That put organizations like Essentia at a disadvantage.

“The cost of care in the rural Midwest is much more expensive than those of facilities in California or Florida,” Welle-Powell noted. “Now, thanks to the work of our ACOs, we are now comparing apples to apples — Midwestern states to Midwestern states. This is a significant change.”

Welle-Powell joined Essentia in 2015. In her role, she is responsible for integrating population-health management with community health and well-being services to focus on the social determinants of health.

She will begin her role as chair of the National Association of ACOs beginning in 2022. She currently serves as the organization’s co-chair.
“I’m excited about this new role and pleased to be partnering with other health care organizations and nonprofits to deliver on the Triple Aim,” Welle-Powell said.

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