A Medicare program aimed at lowering readmissions to hospitals could be having an adverse effect on mortality.
Results from a retrospective cohort study of hospitalizations for heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, and pneumonia among Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years and older between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2015 (covering the period before and after the Medicare Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program was announced in April 2010 and implemented in October 2012) found a significant increase in 30-day post discharge mortality among heart failure and pneumonia patients.
“Most concerning, however, is the possibility that the relationship between the HRRP and postdischarge mortality for heart failure and pneumonia is causal, indicating that the HRRP led to changes in quality of care that adversely affected patients,” Rishi Wadhera, MD, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and his colleagues wrote in a report published Dec. 25, 2018, in JAMA.
They looked at 8.3 million hospitalizations for heart failure, acute MI, and pneumonia, among whom 7.9 million were alive at the time of discharge. There were roughly 270,000 deaths within 30 days of discharge for heart failure; 128,000 for acute MI; and 246,000 for pneumonia.
Heart failure readmission penalties linked with rise in deaths
To examine trends, the timing was divided into four periods: two prior to the announcement of the HRRP (April 2005–September 2007 and October 2007–March 2010); a third covering the time when the HRRP was announced (April 2010–September 2012); and the fourth when HRRP was implemented (October 2012–March 2015).
They found that among patients discharged with heart failure, 30-day mortality was rising even before the announcement of the HRRP, by 0.27% from the first period to the second period. That baseline trend continued when the HRRP was announced, by 0.49%, from second period to third. The difference in change between those periods was 0.22%. After implementation, 30-day mortality increased by 0.52%, with a difference in change from the third period of 0.25%. Both changes were statistically significant.
Among pneumonia patients, postdischarge mortality was stable before HRRP, but significantly increased after HRRP announcement, by 0.26%, with a difference in change from the second period to the third period of 0.22%. After implementation, the 30-day postdischarge mortality was 0.44%, with a significant difference in change of 0.40%.
Acute MI was a different story. Postdischarge mortality decreased significantly after the implementation of the HRRP, by 0.22%. The difference in change was –0.26%.
The authors suggested that “some hospitals may have focused more resources and efforts on reducing or avoiding readmissions than on prioritizing survival.” They add that the increases in heart failure morbidity could be related to patients with more severe heart conditions.
They noted that “although hospitals that reduce readmissions also appear to reduce mortality, this hospital-level concordance does not reflect the change in readmissions and mortality at the level of the patient population, which is arguably of greater importance to individual patients and to public health.”
Further research is needed to understand whether the increase in 30-day postdischarge mortality is a result of the HRRP, the authors concluded.
SOURCE: Wadhera R et al. JAMA. 2018 Dec 25. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.19232.
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