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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Hospitals Face Medicare Crackdown On Injuries

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Are The Metrics Right?

Medicare’s penalties are going to hit some types of hospitals harder than others, according to an analysis of the preliminary penalties conducted for Kaiser Health News by Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Publicly owned hospitals and those that treat large portions of low-income patients are more likely to be assessed penalties. So are large hospitals, hospitals in cities and those in the West and Northeast. Preliminary penalties were assigned to more than a third of hospitals in Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, Medicare records show.

"We want hospitals focused on patient safety and we want them laser-focused on eliminating patient harm," said Dr. Patrick Conway, chief medical officer of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The biggest impact may be on the nation’s major teaching hospitals: 54 percent were marked for preliminary penalties, Jha found. The reasons for such high rates of complications in these elite hospitals are being intensely debated. Leah Binder, CEO of The Leapfrog Group, a patient safety organization, said academic medical centers have such a diverse mix of specialists and competing priorities of research and training residents that safety is not always at the forefront. Nearly half of the teaching hospitals — 123 out of 266 in Jha’s analysis —had low enough rates to avoid penalties.

The government takes into account the size of hospital, the location where the patient was treated and whether it is affiliated with a medical school when calculating infection rates. But the Association of American Medical Colleges and some experts question whether those measures are precise enough. "Do we really believe that large academic medical centers are providing such drastically worse care, or is it that we just haven't gotten our metrics right?" Jha said. "I suspect it's the latter."

Medicare assigned a preliminary penalty to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, for instance, but Dr. Gary Noskin, the chief medical officer, said hospitals that are more vigilant in catching problems end up looking worse. "If you don't look for the clot, you're never going to find it," he said.

Fri, Jun 20 2014

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