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Accountable Care Organization Administrator Career Guide

How to Become an ACO Administrator

An accountable care organization (ACO) administrator works as a healthcare administrator for an ACO. This is a great career option if you want to be involved in providing high-quality patient care or improving the healthcare industry, but don’t want to interact with patients.

An ACO is a network of healthcare professionals and organizations that coordinate with each other to provide high-quality care at a reduced cost to patients. With an ACO, patients can get the care they need when they need it. Because health professionals are working together, services that a patient needs are much less likely to be duplicated or slip through the cracks.

To become an ACO administrator, you’ll need to get an advanced healthcare degree, learn the ins and outs of the profession, and develop the soft skills and technical expertise needed to succeed in this role.

woman taking notes

What Is an ACO Administrator?

An ACO administrator, then, is responsible for running the day-to-day operations and tending to the essential, non-care tasks of an ACO. This may include activities related to either helping providers increase the quality of patient care or reducing care costs. On the whole, their job functions similarly to other types of healthcare administrators, but because the context in which they work is slightly different, ACO admins have slightly different responsibilities, duties, and priorities.

ACOs are a relatively new healthcare model that was formally established as part of the Medicare Shared Savings Program by the Affordable Care Act in 2010. On the surface, they appear to share similarities with Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs); however, ACOs are not insurance plans, nor do they try to fix the price of care for patients.

The primary purpose of ACOs is to hold providers accountable for implementing better practices so patients can get the care they need at a more affordable price. This includes improving communications between providers, sharing relevant patient information, and focusing on preventative care.

What Does an ACO Administrator Do?

An ACO administrator has a diverse variety of job responsibilities. The specific duties can differ from organization to organization, but generally include:

  • Creating and maintaining ACO administrative structure.
  • Developing and refining budgets.
  • Managing organization or department finances.
  • Discovering and forging relationships with other ACO participants.
  • Implementing payment processes and procedures.
  • Communicating with healthcare providers both in and outside of the facility.
  • Determining dispersal of shared savings.
  • Improving overall efficiency and quality of the organization.

Depending on the facility and specific role requirements, ACO administrators may be in charge of an entire organization, department, or single team. This can also affect an ACO admin’s day-to-day activities. Either way, an ACO administrator always has to balance two main priorities in all of their job duties: patient care and cost management.

What Education Does an ACO Administrator Need?

ACO administrators need, at a minimum, some kind of bachelor’s degree in healthcare. It’s a foundational step for any kind of health administration position.

However, it’s more likely that you’ll need an advanced healthcare degree — specifically, a Master’s in Health Leadership or MBA in healthcare management — to pursue a career as an ACO administrator. An advanced degree will give you a more nuanced understanding of healthcare administration and allow you to develop the strategic leadership skills you need to succeed in this role. Not only will an advanced degree better prepare you for the job, but it will also make you a more competitive candidate when you begin looking for a position. Think about your strengths, weaknesses, and the type of experience you need when considering which degree is best for you.

Master of Health Leadership

A master's focused on managing comprehensive, value-based care,...

A master's focused on managing comprehensive,...

A master's focused on managing comprehensive, value-based care, directly in line with innovations in health and healthcare.

  • Time: 78% of grads finish within 24 months. 
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term.

Examples of careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Managed care executive
  • Director of integrated care management
  • Health center manager/clinic manager
  • Director of integrated facilities

Your rich experience in a health-related field can mean more when you bring a master's level of understanding to the problems that organizations need to solve.

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This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

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MBA Healthcare Management

Prepare for a career leading private or public healthcare...

Prepare for a career leading private or public...

Prepare for a career leading private or public healthcare organizations.

  • Time: Graduates can finish within 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,675 per 6-month term.

Some careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President and CEO
  • Vice president
  • Administrative director
  • Chief financial officer
  • Other executive-level roles

Healthcare is big business in today's complex economy.  Steer your career with this specialty MBA.

Compare online business degrees

This program is not the only online business degree WGU offers that is designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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What Skills Does an ACO Administrator Need?

You will need a blend of hard and soft skills to succeed as an ACO administrator:

  • Planning and organization: Because you deal with so many different tasks, you must be highly organized and comfortable prioritizing your work, especially if issues come up unexpectedly. 
  • Communication: You must be adept at communicating with other people—including healthcare providers and even patients—in both verbal and written formats.
  • Business administration skills: A major component of working as an ACO administrator is running the business side of a given healthcare organization. Having business administration skills are necessary to handle the operational and financial aspects of this job.
  • Teamwork: In an ACO administrator position, you must be able to work independently on certain tasks, but you must be equally confident and capable of working with others.
  • Patient care: Though you don’t need to care for patients, you do need to know about patient care so you can work to continually improve it. This includes common injuries and illnesses, as well as their associated treatments and prevention tactics.
  • Quality assurance: You must ensure healthcare providers are meeting all of the care standards required of an ACO.
  • Legal knowledge: In addition to vital healthcare laws, you must be familiar with the laws and governmental policies surrounding ACOs.
  • Problem-solving skills: You must be a creative problem-solver to work as any kind of healthcare administrator. In both business and the medical field, emergencies that require quick and decisive responses are bound to arise.

You may have some of these skills naturally, but you can work on developing others while getting your degree or gaining experience as a healthcare administrator.

How Much Does an ACO Administrator Make?

$104,280

Per the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), $104,280 per year (or $50.13 per hour) is the median salary for healthcare administration professionals. Of course, this may not be your actual salary. Your earning potential as an ACO admin will vary greatly depending on your previous experience, the type of organization you work for, your level of education, and the location of your job. The more experience and education you have, the higher your salary and earning potential will be.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

32%

Currently, the job outlook for healthcare administrators is strong. The BLS projects this profession to grow 32% — significantly faster than the average of all occupations — by 2029. While several factors are driving this growth, the shift in care settings is among the most significant for ACO administrators. Given current trends in the healthcare industry, the BLS believes that more care will be provided by health practitioners, rather than by hospitals, resulting in a greater need for “medical group practice management,” especially for large or complex organizations.

Where Do ACO Administrators Work?

Varies

However, ACOs can comprise many types of healthcare professionals and organizations. This means that ACO admins can work in many healthcare settings, such as:

-Primary care practices

-Large hospitals

-Small organizations

-Specialists’ offices

-Pharmacies

-Private companies

Though they were originally created as part of the federal government’s healthcare reform, organizations and individuals in the private healthcare sector can also create ACOs. This may open up additional job opportunities, such as with private insurance companies.

 

Interested in Becoming an ACO Administrator?

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