Archive for category US State Comparisons

Medicare Penalizes Hospitals — safety problems

MC Hospital Penalties

Hospitals in the lowest quartile of safety scores from Oct 1, 2014 to Nov 30, 2015 were recently penalized 1% of Medicare billings as detailed on the Medicare.gov web site.  The above graphic highlights the results in terms of the number of hospitals penalized per million medicare enrollees in each state.  Red indicates the most hospitals penalized and green indicates the least with the lighter shades in between.

New York had many hospitals penalized but Alaska only had a few.   However, Alaska does not look very good considering they don’t have very many Medicare enrolees (or other people for that matter).  So a patient’s chance of experiencing safety problems is higher in Alaska.  This reflects poorly on the State-wide hospital quality programs and the importance hospitals in that state place on quality.   If you live in a state with poor performing hospitals then be especially careful to pick hospitals with the best scores.  KHN.org  lists the poor performing hospitals.

The four Medicare safety measures were somewhat limited and heavily focused on surgery:

  1. The AHRQ Patient Safety Indicator (PSI 90 Composite)
  2. Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infection (CLABSI)
  3. Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infection (CAUTI)
  4. Surgical Site Infection (SSI) – colon and hysterectomy

What should be done?

  1. Patients should avoid hospitals with lower scores
  2. Poor performing hospitals should make better use of state quality resources.  Spend more money on boosting quality than on remodeling or building new facilities.
  3. High performing hospitals should redouble safety efforts.  Improved performance by competitors could push complacent hospitals toward lower ratings.
  4. Hospitals should not just focus efforts on the few areas that are rated — overall safe care and quality care are the goals.  The basis for financial penalties could, and very likely will, change.

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Maryland’s Global Hospital Budgets — a start

marylandmapMaryland and Medicare started a global payment scheme for hospitals January 1, 2014, and data on the program are now being reported (NPR and NEJM).  Some success is noted for reducing unnecessary procedures and blunting the rise in costs for Medicare and the 28 Maryland health insurance companies.

Maryland is a small state but has 6 million residents.  They have had a cost control system for hospitals for the past 40 years — up until now all insurance companies, except Medicare, paid the same amount for any given hospital service — Medicare paid less.

The “Maryland All-Payer Model” adopted in 2014 had 2 basic elements:  1)  Hospitals would be paid the same rate by all payers including Medicare and 2) Hospitals would be paid a global fee rather than the previous “fee-for-service” model.   The global fee is adjusted to some degree by quality targets.  There is no adjustment for number of services.

Maryland healthcare overall was ranked 17th by the Commonwealth Fund within the 50 states and District of Columbia.  But, the hospitals were ranked much lower at 33rd in the category of “Avoidable Hospital Use & Costs”.  The All-Payer Model was designed to target the unnecessary services by hospitals.

The Hospitals liked the plan because Medicare would be contributing more money and they could get the same revenue without driving so hard to perform services (like cardiac catheterizations).   The insurance companies liked the plan because it reduced risk and potentially could reduce cost — they could make more money.

Doctors are not very happy because they make money by charging fee-for-service associated with many of the services (like cardiac catheterization) — fewer services, fewer charges.  Likely, a number of hospital physicians will look for positions elsewhere as services are reduced.

The program seems to be having some effect:  the growth in Medicare service continued to rise but was reduced by about 1% whereas nationally the growth increased by 1%.  From a patient standpoint the rates of potentially preventable conditions in Maryland made big improvements (except for catheter-related urinary tract infections and foreign bodies left in people after surgery which both had a big increase for unknown reasons).

The obvious future direction is to gradually reduce the payments to hospitals — to mitigate a potential huge windfall profit.  Hopefully, quality monitoring will be expanded to make sure the hospitals are not just “studying for the test” and ignoring other areas with less scrutiny.   It seems Maryland and Medicare have taken an important step away from fee-for-service.  Hopefully other states will follow suit.

It is interesting to note that Colorado will have a ballot question next year to move to a single payer for health care in that state.  Similar to Maryland, but circumventing insurance companies all together.  Perhaps we are seeing the start of efforts to get rid of fee-for-service which is a huge driver of excess cost in the US health care system.

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2014 Health Rankings — Hawaii #1, Mississippi #50

State Quality of CareThe 2014 data from the United Health Foundation is in.  The graph rates health status of people in all 50 states .  Hawaii, the state with a virtual single payer, is #1 and Mississippi with poverty and poor access to care is #50.  The rankings aggregate 27 measures including physical inactivity, infectious diseases, immunizations, number of primary care physicians and disparity in health status.

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Addendum (2/26/15):  After creating the above graphic I realized it was virtually the same as one in a previous blog.  The first graph was from the Commonwealth Fund intended to show regions of poor quality care (e.g.patients not given adequate immunizations) and the second was from the United Health Foundation intended to show patients having poor health (e.g. patients not taking immunizations).  In the first it says the health care system is not doing enough, the second says the health care system is overwhelmed by problems.  I tend to side with the Commonwealth Fund. When you find yourself surrounded by alligators it is important to recall your first job was to drain the swamp, not to later just complain about alligators.  Good advice for the Mississippi legislature.

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