HCUP: Hospital Costs, Not Prices
AHRQ released a helpful brief in 2013 assessing costs (not prices) for hospital stays.
Inpatient health care costs for Medicare, longer term, exhibit a downward growth rate–still ascending but slowing. However, prices for employed individuals moved upward and at an accelerating rate (distinct from Medicare). The number of admissions from both groups also decreased.
“Readmits Are Not A Quality Measure”: Q&A With Harvard’s Ashish Jha MD, MPH
For readers not familiar with Ashish Jha’s prodigious output, his published work focuses on quality measurement, and in particular, CMS’s Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP). Two of his papers were released this month: A Path Forward on Medicare Readmissions (NEJM), and Insurance Expansion In Massachusetts Did Not Reduce Access Among Previously Insured Medicare Patients (Health Affairs). He also writes a first-rate blog at An Ounce of Evidence, which I highly recommend. A current post on the 30-day readmit rule continues to garner attention and speaks unambiguously on the subject.
He generously offered to answer a few questions for the blog:
I clipped sentences while reading the last few weeks with the intent of compiling them for this post. I want you to examine below and glean a pattern.
JAMA Readmissions, Part II
My last post alluded to the JAMA theme issue on readmissions. I planned on writing a synopsis, but having read a related post from a friend—one I cannot improve upon—I will defer to his. However, a few housekeeping chores before the guest summary below.
JAMA Theme Issue: Readmissions
JAMA released a theme issue today, and the spotlight shines on readmissions. I will weigh in on the findings shortly as the issue contains a good deal of material. However, our own Mark Williams writes the featured commentary and I will let him cue the release:
The Hospital Transitions Emperor Has No Clothes
When reading international comparisons of health system performance, a cautious eye never hurts. I do not believe elaboration is required, but each country approaches measurement a tad differently, and we unwittingly omit meaningful population characteristics using available variables when examining outcomes. The nuances embedded within cultures do not express themselves readily, even to keen eyed investigators.
What Is Uncompensated Care?
Uncompensated care is an overall measure of hospital care provided for which no payment was received from the patient or insurer. It is the sum of a hospital’s “bad debt” and charity care.
Charity care is care for which hospitals never expect reimbursement. A hospital incurs bad debt when it cannot obtain recompense for services rendered. EMTALA, ability, or willingness to pay influence the latter and determine the vigor of institutional response when faced with shortfalls in payment. Hospitals must attempt to assist patients’ when they are unable to meet their obligations however. Current law mandates they make these efforts and risk their reputation and then some, if they abrogate caregiving duty. As a reminder, you may recall this fiasco.
Uncompensated care comprises 5-6% of total expenses for an average hospital and has risen the past few years due to the recession. Payer mix and hospital locale influence its effect on revenue, with urban and public hospitals suffering most. Estimates range as high as 16% for these facilities.
Nonprofit hospitals receive various tax exemptions from federal, state, and local governments with the expectation that, in return, facilities will provide benefits to the community. The definition of “benefit” and the amount hospitals contribute or are able, are subject to continued debate (g00d 2-page RWJF primer).
The government is examining charitable activity of late, as some hospitals are stretching its definition (at taxpayer expense). Providing free care at a local shelter versus “complimentary screens” for LASIK surgery for example, raise levels of philanthropic nuance even your brother-in-law the tailor can parse. Conversely, other facilities are drowning in debt, and exemptions of any size won’t rescue their dwindling coffers. The Affordable Care Act requires hospital to improve measurement and reporting of these services. The present value of tax-exempt benefits rewarded to hospitals is greater than $10B.
With razor thin margins then, how do some hospitals cope with unpaid bills—especially when they run in the red?
In addition to improving efficiency, fundraising, pursuing non-clinical sources of revenue, and engaging in mischief, they also receive disproportionate share (DSH) payments. If you unaware of them, stay vigilant, as your hospital may receive (and will likely experience) their loss. Controversy exists, with some hospitals receiving DSH stipends in excess of financial need. A brief overview:
The United States government provides funding to hospitals that treat indigent patients through the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) programs, under which facilities are able to receive at least partial compensation.
Although 3,109 hospitals receive this adjustment, Medicare DSH payments are highly concentrated. Ninety three percent of total DSH payments go to large hospitals in urban areas and teaching hospitals receive about 65 percent of all DSH payments. Additionally, because Medicaid eligibility and coverage vary widely across states, Medicare DSH payments are distributed unevenly across geographic areas: the Middle Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Pacific regions account for 60 percent of all DSH payments but only 46 percent of Medicare discharges.
And on the reductions to the DSH payments:
PPACA aims to reduce:
- Funding for the Medicaid DSH program by $17.1 billion between 2014 and 2020
PPACA requires the Secretary to:
- Develop a methodology to distribute DSH reductions in a manner that (1) imposes the largest reduction in DSH allotments for states with the lowest percentage of uninsured or those that do not target DSH payments; (2) imposes smaller reductions for low-DSH states
- Determine the best way to implement the cuts in a way that will target states that direct the lowest percentage of DSH allotments to hospitals with high volumes of uninsured and Medicaid inpatients. The 16 states considered “low DSH states” will be reduced by 25%, and all other states will be reduced by 50%.
All hospitals will feel the cuts, but the needy will suffer “least” (relatively). However, the increase in newly insured individuals due to the ACA may not adequately compensate teetering safety net hospitals, and the net loss may be more than they can withstand. In Massachusetts, Boston Medical Center suffered great loses after state reform was implemented–in a manner similar to the ACA–and paid volume did not materialize:
“Ironically, hospital officials blame the downturn partly on changes ushered in with the state’s groundbreaking mandatory health insurance law, which Boston Medical Center supported and that benefited many of its patients. As part of the law, the state phased out special subsidies for hospitals that treat large numbers of poor patients, a significant shock for Boston Medical Center.”
You will hear more about DSH payments as hospital margins get squeezed. For some facilities, this cash lifeline is vital and the ensuing battles between the have and have not systems will elevate its importance as congress seeks solutions to budgetary gaps.
- Making the Case: Reduce Surgical Complications vs. Lose Money, You pick!
- Rationing End of Life Care: In a debate, is the voting audience swayed by a “ration” or “spend away” approach. Click the results and find out. Is there hope?
- Now that this paper is out, I am lost. How can I continue my ways and plead “don’t waste your money?”
- One of the better posts I have read recently and worth your time. You will rethink P4P! His book is even better.
- System failure or negligence? Holy cow, what do you do with this “bad apple?”
Ever See the Glazed Eyes When You Teach the 2×2 Table?
If you have ever taught students basic biostatistics, run a journal club, or participated in an EBM course, you know the quizzical looks folks have when you discuss elements beyond the 2×2 table. Well, along comes Nate Silver.
I am a longtime fan and read his first blog before it migrated to the NYT (FiveThirtyEight). His reach is beyond national, and his daily output—shall we say prodigious—is mind blowing, and that speaks nothing of his sophistication and technical skill. You see, he plays with numbers, any kind of numbers. He cut his teeth first with major league baseball (ever hear of PECOTA?), and then migrated to election forecasting and politics. However, nothing is beyond his reach and if you can analyze it and smack it down, he will be the first and best to do it. Seriously, his reputation is pristine.
Now that I’ve dispensed with the preamble, I can advance us into the crux of the post. Simply, it’s Silver’s take on Bayes theorem. The explanation is in his new book (and the plug is incidental, as I have no affiliation with him or the publisher). However, the analogy he uses to impart the Bayes lesson is too delicious to pass up. Hope you like it as much as me.
Do not be afraid to utilize the tutorial tomorrow–as I have already put it through its paces. The lesson works:
Measure Me, My Group, or the Hospital?
CMS is overseeing a physician initiative in four states, and you likely know little about it. Additionally, you are probably unaware of the program it seeks to inform.
In 2015, Medicare will begin to assess physician performance on cost and quality data. Through a value-based code, our newly adjusted fees will reflect these measurements, relative to our peers—with the intent of raising the care delivery bar at the doctor level. The public will have also access to this information.