Hospital readmissions continue to trend down

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 - Downward Trend

All-cause 30-day hospital readmission rates for Medicare beneficiaries dropped by a full percentage point between 2012 and 2013, a trend the federal government attributes in part to readmission penalties for heart failure, acute MI and pneumonia.

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began withholding reimbursement in fiscal year 2013 for hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates for the three conditions. This year the penalty was 2 percent, which will increase to 3 percent next year. CMS will add CABG to the list in the near future.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released preliminary data May 7 that showed the all-cause 30-day readmission rate decreased from 18.5 percent in 2012 to 17.5 percent in 2013. That follows a similar drop between 2011 and 2012. Readmission rates hovered between 19 percent and 19.5 percent between 2007 and 2011.

HHS credited the Affordable Care Act for some of the reductions, which it said amounted to 150,000 fewer readmissions between 2012 and 2013. It also gave credit to the Partnership for Patients program. Initiated in 2011, the program set a goal of reducing 30-day readmissions by 20 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Overall the report outlined a number of gains in patient safety, including a 9 percent decline in adverse drug events, falls and infections experienced by patients in hospitals between 2012 and 2010. Those improvements prevented almost 15,000 deaths and 560,000 patient harms between 2011 and 2012 for a cost savings of $4.1 billion, according to the report.