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Hospitals Face Medicare Crackdown On Injuries

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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.

Another concern is there may be little difference in the performance between hospitals that narrowly draw penalties and those that barely escape them. That is because the health law requires Medicare to punish the worst-performing quarter of the nation’s hospitals each year, even if they have been improving.

"Hospitals that have been working hard to reduce infections may end up in the penalty box," said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and public safety at the American Hospital Association.

Third Leg Of Medicare’s Pay-For-Performance

The Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program, created by the 2010 health law, is the third of the federal health law’s major mandatory pay-for-performance programs for hospitals. The first levies penalties against hospitals with high readmission rates and the second awards bonuses or penalties based on two dozen quality measures. Both are in their second year. When all three programs are in place this fall, hospitals will be at risk of losing up to 5.4 percent of their Medicare payments.

In the first year of the HAC penalties, Medicare will look at three measures. One is the frequency of bloodstream infections in patients with catheters inserted into a major vein to deliver antibiotics, nutrients, chemotherapy or other treatments. The second is the rates of infections from catheters inserted into the bladder to drain urine. Both those assessments will be based on infections during 2012 and 2013.

Fri, Jun 20 2014

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