Medicare’s hospital readmissions reduction program is unfairly penalizing hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients, 34 members of Congress have written in a letter to recently appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

The letter, sponsored by Rep. James Renacci (R-Ohio), notes that while the program has

…incentivized hospitals to reduce readmissions, there are some factors outside of a hospital’s control that make it difficult for the patient to avoid readmission.  The current penalty methodology…has created an unintended consequence for hospitals that service our most vulnerable populations – dual-eligible beneficiaries; low-income seniors, or people with disabilities that are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.

The letter also notes financial penalties imposed by the program “jeopardizes the viability of hospitals that service our nation’s most vulnerable population” and that H.R. 4188, the Establishing Beneficiary Equity in the Hospital Readmissions Program,

…adjusts the penalty methodology for hospitals servicing larger amounts of dual-eligible beneficiaries and excludes patients with certain extenuating circumstances from the penalty calculations.  Adjusting the penalty to account for certain disparities in patient population can make a big difference to hospitals across the country and the nine million dually-eligible beneficiaries that rely on these hospitals for their critical care needs.

The National Association of Urban Hospitals has endorsed H.R. 4188 and also endorsed a  similar Senate proposal to add an appropriate risk-adjustment component to Medicare’s hospital readmissions reduction program.

US Capitol DomeRead the House letter to Secretary Burwell and Administrator Tavenner here.