Federal agency uses UW–Madison research to shape national health policy

A data tool developed by UW–Madison researchers showing health-relevant metrics for every neighborhood in the United States is guiding a national model to help Medicare beneficiaries from under-resourced communities access health care more effectively, according to a news release.

The model, called Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access and Community Health (ACO REACH), was announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in February 2022. It was put into use in January 2023 for 132 accountable care organizations (ACOs), which are entities that focus on providing higher quality health care for Medicare patients at lower cost.

ACO REACH takes a new approach to advancing health equity by providing adjustments to ACOs serving under-resourced communities using the UW–Madison Neighborhood Atlas, a data tool that was created by a team led by Dr. Amy Kind, professor of medicine and associate dean for social health sciences and programs at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The Atlas consists of the Area Deprivation Index (ADI), a validated measure of socioeconomic disadvantage at the neighborhood, or census block-group level, that is strongly linked to health outcomes. The ADI is determined from census data and consists of 17 factors in the areas of income, education, employment, and housing. These factors are combined to create neighborhood rankings across the United States.

The new model enables each ACO to identify how they will reduce health disparities among the Medicaid patients they serve using tailored tactics.