Hospital readmissions: As penalties begin to bite, 'now they're paying attention'

Facilities ramp up efforts to avoid readmission penalties

Medicare last month began levying financial penalties against hospitals with excess readmissions—which has hospital leaders finally "paying attention" to reducing readmissions rates, some experts say.

So far, 2,217 hospitals have been penalized under the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) effort to curb readmissions, and 307 hospitals received the maximum 1% reduction in Medicare payments. Altogether, CMS will recoup about $300 million from the penalties this year.

The maximum penalty will increase to 2% in October 2013 and 3% in October 2015. In addition, CMS will consider more types of conditions when assessing the penalties in the future; the agency currently only evaluates readmissions for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia patients.

In response to the new penalties, hospitals have intensified efforts to prevent readmissions, according to Kaiser Health News/New York Times. "[F]or over two decades, [I have been] talking to hospital leaders about readmissions, and I used to get polite but blank stares," says University of Colorado professor Eric Coleman, adding, "Now they’re paying attention."

Specifically, hospitals are focusing on follow-up care by offering:

  • Home visits from nurses;
  • Transportation services;
  • Culturally specific diet tips;
  • Free medications; and
  • Bathroom scales.

While most hospitals are working to reduce overall readmissions, some are suspected of cutting patient stays to fewer than 24 hours to avoid billing for a hospital admission, KHN/Times reports (Rau, KHN/Times, 11/26).

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