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Physicians' Participation In ACOs Is Lower In Places With Vulnerable Populations Than In More Affluent Communities.


Early evidence suggested that accountable care organizations (ACOs) could improve health care quality while constraining costs, and ACOs are expanding throughout the United States. However, if disadvantaged patients have unequal access to physicians who participate in ACOs, that expansion may exacerbate health care disparities. We examined the relationship between physicians' participation in both Medicare and commercial ACOs across the country and the sociodemographic characteristics of their likely patient populations. Physicians' participation in ACOs varied widely across hospital referral regions, from nearly 0 percent to over 85 percent. After we adjusted for individual physician and practice characteristics, we found that physicians who practiced in ZIP Code Tabulation Areas where a higher percentage of the population was black, living in poverty, uninsured, or disabled or had less than a high school education-compared to other areas-had significantly lower rates of ACO participation than other physicians. Our findings suggest that vulnerable populations' access to physicians participating in ACOs may not be as great as access for other groups, which could exacerbate existing disparities in health care quality.