(AP) Medicare fines over hospitals’ readmitted patients
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
If you or an elderly relative have been hospitalized recently and noticed extra attention when the time came to be discharged, there’s more to it than good customer service.
Starting Monday, Medicare will fine hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications. The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama’s health care law to improve quality while also trying to cut costs.
About two-thirds of the hospitals serving Medicare patients, or some 2,200 facilities, will be hit with penalties averaging around $125,000 per facility this coming year, according to government estimates.
Data to assess the penalties have been collected and crunched, and Medicare has shared the results with individual hospitals. Medicare plans to post details online later and people can look up how their community hospitals performed.
It adds up to a new way of doing business for hospitals, and they have scrambled to prepare for well over a year. They are working on ways to improve communication with rehabilitation centers and doctors who follow patients after they’re released, as well as connecting individually with patients.
Still, industry officials say they have misgivings about being held liable for circumstances beyond their control. They also complain that facilities serving low-income people, including many major teaching hospitals, are much more likely to be fined, raising questions of fairness.
Consumer advocates say Medicare’s nudge to hospitals is long overdue and not nearly stiff enough.
For the first year, the penalty is capped at 1 percent of a hospital’s Medicare payments. The overwhelming majority of penalized facilities will pay less. Also, for now, hospitals are only being measured on three medical conditions: heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia.
Under the health care law, the penalties gradually will rise until 3 percent of Medicare payments to hospitals are at risk.