Clinical question: Can differences in hospital readmission rates be explained by patient characteristics not accounted for by Medicare?
Background: In its Pay for Performance program, Medicare ties payments to readmission rates but adjusts these rates only for limited patient characteristics. Hospitals serving higher-risk patients have received greater penalties. These programs may have the unintended consequence of penalizing hospitals that provide care to higher-risk patients.
Study design: Observational study.
Setting: Medicare admissions claims from 2013 through 2014 in 2,215 hospitals.
Synopsis: Using Medicare claims for admission and linked U.S. census data, the study assessed several clinical and social characteristics not currently used for risk adjustment. A sample of 1,169,014 index admissions among 1,003,664 unique beneficiaries was analyzed. The study compared rates with and without these additional adjustments.
Additional adjustments reduced overall variation in hospital readmission by 9.6%, changed rates upward or downward by 0.4%-0.7% for the 10% of hospitals most affected by the readjustments, and they would be expected to reduce penalties by 52%, 46%, and 41% for hospitals with the largest 1%, 5%, and 10% of penalty reductions, respectively.
Bottom line: Hospitals serving higher-risk patients may be penalized because of the patients they serve rather that the quality of care they provide.
Citation: Roberts ET et al. Assessment of the effect of adjustment for patient characteristics on hospital readmission rates: Implications for Pay for Performance. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(11)1498-1507.
Dr. Asuen is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of hospital medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.