Concerns that efforts to reduce 30-day hospital readmission rates under the Affordable Care Act’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program might lead to unintended increases in mortality rates appear to be unfounded, according to a review of more than 6.7 million hospitalizations for heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, or pneumonia between 2008 and 2014.
In fact, reductions in 30-day readmission rates among Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries are weakly but significantly correlated with reductions in hospital 30-day mortality rates after discharge, according to Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health, and colleagues (JAMA 2017 Jul 18;318:270-8. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.8444).
During the study period, a total of 2.96 million hospitalizations for heart failure, 1.2 million for acute MI, and 2.5 million for pneumonia were identified at 5,106 (heart failure), 4,772 (MI), and 5,057 (pneumonia) short-term acute care hospitals, respectively. In January 2008, the mean hospital 30-day risk-adjusted readmission rates (RARRs) and risk-adjusted mortality rates (RAMRs) after discharge were 24.6% and 8.4% for heart failure, 19.3% and 7.6% for acute MI, and 18.3% and 8.5% for pneumonia, respectively, the investigators said.
From 2008 to 2014, the RARRs declined in aggregate across hospitals (–0.053% for heart failure, –0.044% for acute MI, and –0.033% for pneumonia).
“In contrast, monthly aggregate trends across hospitals in 30-day risk-adjusted mortality rates after discharge varied by admitting condition” the investigators said.
For heart failure, acute MI, and pneumonia, there was an increase of 0.008%, a decrease of 0.003%, and an increase of 0.001%, respectively, they said. However, paired monthly trends in 30-day RARRs and 30-day RAMRs after discharge “identified concomitant reduction in readmission and mortality rates within hospitals.”
Correlation coefficients of the paired monthly trends for heart failure, acute MI, and pneumonia in 2008-2014 were 0.066, 0.067, and 0.108, respectively.
“Paired trends in hospital 30-day risk-adjusted readmission rates and both 90-day risk-adjusted mortality rates after discharge and 90-day risk-adjusted mortality rates after the admission date also identified concomitant reductions in readmission and mortality rates within hospitals,” the authors wrote.
The findings “do not support increasing postdischarge mortality related to reducing hospital readmissions,” they concluded.
The authors work under contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop and maintain performance measures. Dr. Dharmarajan reported serving as a consultant and scientific advisory board member for Clover Health at the time this research was performed. He is supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research, and the Yale Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.