Safety-Net Hospitals, Others Benefit From Changes in Medicare Readmissions Program

Safety-net hospitals are among the leading beneficiaries of changes implemented this year in Medicare’s  hospital readmissions reduction program.

According to a new study, safety-net, academic, and rural hospitals have enjoyed improved performance under the program since Medicare began organizing hospitals into peer groups based on the proportion of low-income patients they serve rather than simply comparing individual hospital performance to that of all other hospitals.

While the current fiscal year is still under way, it appears that safety-net hospitals will enjoy a collective decline of $22 million in Medicare readmissions penalties while 44.1 percent of teaching hospitals and 43.7 percent of rural hospitals will face smaller penalties than last year.

NASH was one of the leading and most outspoken proponents of leveling the playing field in the readmissions reduction program, encouraging policy-makers to reform the program so it would compare hospital readmission rates among similar hospitals instead of to those of all hospitals.  NASH’s multi-year effort proved successful and private safety-net hospitals are now benefiting from that success.

Learn more about the readmissions reduction program and how changes in that program have significantly altered its outcomes in the JAMA Internal Medicine study “Association of Stratification by Dual Enrollment Status With Financial Penalties in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.”

Safety-Net Hospitals Struggle in Medicare Joint Replacement Model

Non-safety-net hospitals are outperforming safety-net hospitals in the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement model introduced in 2016.

According to a new study published in Health Affairs,

…in comparison to non-safety-net hospitals, 42 percent fewer safety-net hospitals qualified for rewards based on their quality and spending performance (33 percent of safety-net hospitals qualified, compared to 57 percent of non-safety-net hospitals), and safety-net hospitals’ rewards per episode were 39 percent smaller ($456 compared to $743). Continuation of this performance trend could place safety-net hospitals at increased risk of penalties in future years.

What might be done to address this disparity?  The study suggests that

Medicare and hospital strategies such as those that reward high-quality care for vulnerable patients could enable safety-net hospitals to compete effectively in CJR.

Learn more in the Health Affairs article Performance of Safety-Net Hospitals in Year 1 of the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model.

 

Proposed Public Charge Regulation Causes Confusion in Clinics, Elsewhere

A Trump administration proposal to redefine what constitutes a “public charge” is making life challenging for low-income immigrants and the clinics and other providers to which they turn for Medicaid-covered health care.

The proposed regulation from the Department of Homeland Security would establish new criteria for determining whether a person is a “public charge,” based on their participation in certain public programs, and therefore in jeopardy of losing their legal immigration status.

Some Medicaid patients who come to clinics ask if receiving Medicaid-covered services might jeopardize their legal immigration status; others fail to keep appointments or forego seeking care out of fear of the future implications.  Clinic operators walk a fine line between trying to provide the care their patients need and deciding how to answer patients’ questions honestly but without causing undue alarm.  Some choose not to address the issue at all; others seek to answer patient questions but only when asked; while still others provide information about the situation without being asked – doing so, they realize, at the risk of scaring off some of those patients.

Meanwhile, some legal experts believe that a new standard, if adopted, would not be retroactive and consider Medicaid enrollment prior to the regulation’s adoption.

The result is confusion and concern among providers, legal immigrants enrolled in Medicaid, and advocates.

Last month NASH wrote to the Department of Homeland Security to convey its objections to the proposed legislation, expressing concern about its potential impact on private safety-net hospitals and the patients and communities they serve.

Learn more about the proposed regulation and the challenges providers face as they await a decision on whether it will be implemented in the Kaiser Health News report “Providers Walk ‘Fine Line’ Between Informing And Scaring Immigrant Patients.”