From the Journals

Safety-net hospitals would be hurt by hospital-wide 30-day readmission penalties



Considering all readmissions within 30 days of discharge in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program would modestly increase the number of hospitals eligible for penalties and would have a bigger impact on safety-net hospitals, based on a study of two years of Medicare claims data from 3,443 hospitals.

“Transition to a hospital-wide measure would require an adjustment in the penalty formula to keep penalties in the same range for most hospitals and without a change in procedures would have a deleterious effect on safety-net hospitals,” according to Rachael B. Zuckerman, PhD, from the Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, and her co-authors.

Analyzing 6,807,899 admissions for hospital-wide readmission measures and 4,392,658 admissions for condition-specific measures, the researchers found that a condition-specific approach would result in 3,238 hospitals being eligible for penalties for at least one condition. A hospital-wide measure of readmissions would result in 76 additional hospitals being eligible for penalties based on one year of admissions data, and 128 additional hospitals based on 3 years of admissions data (NEJM 2017, 377:1551-58. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsa1701791).

Moving to a hospital-wide measure of readmissions also would significantly increase mean annual penalty rates across all hospitals by 0.89% of base diagnosis-related group (DRG) payments or $393,000; 43% of hospitals would be penalized under this standard.

“Moving to the hospital-wide readmission measure would also substantially increase the disparity between safety-net and other hospitals: the mean penalty as a percentage of base DRG payments would be 0.41 percentage points ($198,000) higher among safety net hospitals,” the authors wrote.

“Since safety-net hospitals tend to perform slightly worse on the hospital-wide measure, they are more likely to receive a penalty, which would increase the disparity in penalties between the two groups.”

The study was supported by the Department of Health and Human Services. One author declared grants from funding bodies and universities outside the submitted work. One author is an associate editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. One author was an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services at the time of the study. No other conflicts of interest were declared.

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