A recent CMS analysis of its Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) found that 2,500 hospitals will face HRRP penalty reductions and around 18% of hospitals will face penalties of at least 1% of their Medicare reimbursements for fiscal year (FY) 2022, Modern Healthcare reports.
How HRRP works
Under the HRRP, CMS withholds up to 3% of regular reimbursements for hospitals if they have a higher-than-expected number of 30-day readmissions for any of six conditions:
- Chronic lung disease
- Coronary artery bypass graft surgery
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure
- Hip and knee replacements
Historically, hospitals received a penalty if their observed readmissions for any one of these conditions exceeded a national standard. However, in response to criticism, CMS in 2019 scrapped the national standard comparison standard. It now compares hospitals' performance with that of other hospitals serving a similar population of low-income patients.
Under the current methodology, CMS has categorized all participating hospitals into quintiles according to the proportion of dual-eligible patients (patients eligible for Medicare and Medicaid) each hospital serves. Now, each hospital is compared with the median readmissions performance of its cohort, and hospitals with higher-than-cohort-median performance are penalized.
The program does not apply to veterans hospitals, children's hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, or hospitals in Maryland, which has a federal waiver for how it distributes Medicare funding. In addition, hospitals are not evaluated under the program if they do not treat enough cases of the conditions evaluated.
Fewer hospitals are facing high HRRP penalties
In a recent analysis, CMS looked at HRRP data from July 2017 to December 2019. It found that 2,500 hospitals will face HRRP penalty reductions for FY 2022, and around 18% of hospitals will be penalized more than 1% of their reimbursements, down from 20% from July 2016 through June 2019.
The analysis also found that 80% of hospitals with the highest proportion of Medicare-Medicaid dual-eligible patients will pay penalties, while nearly 72% of hospitals with the lowest proportion of dual-eligible patients will receive penalties.
This likely will be the last set of readmissions data unaffected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Under ordinary circumstances, CMS reviews three years of data in calculating HRRP penalties, so the agency ordinarily would have considered data from July 2017 to June 2020 in calculating the fiscal year 2022 penalties. However, CMS elected to stop its analysis in December 2019 to exclude data gathered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
CMS has not yet said how it will handle readmissions data from the pandemic, Modern Healthcare reports.
Akin Demehin, director of policy for the American Hospital Association (AHA), said the drop in hospitals paying high HRRP penalties is a success.
"America's hospitals and health systems have made substantial progress in reducing unnecessary readmissions, which has improved quality and enhanced care coordination," Demehin said.
Demehin also praised CMS for excluding data from the Covid-19 pandemic from its analysis.
"We are pleased that CMS heard our concerns and excluded data from the first six months of 2020 to account for the pandemic when calculating performance," he said. "We will continue to ask CMS to use its discretion to exclude pandemic-affected data in calculating performance in its hospital quality and value programs going forward."
Demehin also added that CMS should expand its peer-grouping of hospitals by incorporating other social risk factors beyond a hospital's control.
"Peer grouping provides relief to many hospitals serving the poorest and most vulnerable communities," he said. "Congress gave CMS the ability to refine its social risk factor adjustment approach over time, and because the research and science on this issue continues to evolve, the AHA has encouraged CMS to consider ongoing refinements." (Gillespie, Modern Healthcare, 10/1)
Hospital Readmissions Penalties Map