Association Between Extending CareFirst’s Medical Home Program to Medicare Patients and Quality of Care, Utilization, and Spending

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CareFirst, the largest commercial insurer in the mid-Atlantic Region of the United States, runs a medical home program focusing on financial incentives for primary care practices and care coordination for high-risk patients. From 2013 to 2015, CareFirst extended the program to Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) beneficiaries in participating practices. If the model extension improved quality while reducing spending, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could expand the program to Medicare beneficiaries broadly.


To test whether extending CareFirst’s program to Medicare FFS patients improves care processes and reduces hospitalizations, emergency department visits, and spending.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This difference-in-differences analysis compared outcomes for roughly 35 000 Medicare FFS patients attributed to 52 intervention practices (grouped by CareFirst into 14 “medical panels”) to outcomes for 69 000 Medicare patients attributed to 42 matched comparison panels during a 1-year baseline period and 2.5-year intervention at Maryland primary care practices.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Hospitalizations (all-cause and ambulatory-care sensitive), emergency department visits, Medicare Part A and B spending, and 3 quality-of-care process measures: ambulatory care within 14 days of a hospital stay, cholesterol testing for those with ischemic vascular disease, and a composite measure for those with diabetes.


CareFirst hired nurses who worked with patients’ usual primary care practitioners to coordinate care for 3656 high-risk Medicare patients. CareFirst paid panels rewards for meeting cost and quality targets for their Medicare patients and advised panels on how to meet these targets based on analyses of claims data.


On average, each of the 14 intervention panels had 9.3 primary care practitioners and was attributed 2202 Medicare FFS patients in the baseline period. The panels’ attributed Medicare patients were, on average, 73.8 years old, 59.2% female, and 85.1% white. The extension of CareFirst’s program to Medicare patients was not statistically associated with improvements in any outcomes, either for the full Medicare population or for a high-risk subgroup in which impacts were expected to be largest. For the full population, the difference-in-differences estimates were 1.4 hospitalizations per 1000 patients per quarter (P = .54; 90% CI, −2.1 to 5.0), −2.5 outpatient ED visits per 1000 patients per quarter (P = .26; 90% CI, −6.2 to 1.1), and −$1 per patient per month in Medicare Part A and B spending (P = .98; 90% CI, −$40 to $39). For hospitalizations and Medicare spending, the 90% CIs did not span CareFirst's expected impacts. Hospitalizations for the intervention group declined by 10% from baseline year to the final 18 months of the intervention, but this was matched by similar declines in the comparison group.

Conclusion and Relevance

The extension of CareFirst’s program to Medicare did not measurably improve quality-of-care processes or reduce service use or spending for Medicare patients. Further program refinement and testing would be needed to support scaling the program more broadly to Medicare patients.

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