The federal government has eased its annual punishments for hospitals with higher-than-expected readmission rates in an acknowledgment of the upheaval the covid-19 pandemic has caused, resulting in the lightest penalties since 2014.
The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program has been a mainstay of Medicare’s hospital payment system since it began in 2012. Created by the Affordable Care Act, the program evaluates the frequency with which Medicare patients at most hospitals return within 30 days and lowers future payments to hospitals that had a greater-than-expected rate of return. Hospitals can lose up to 3% of each Medicare payment for a year.
The pandemic threw hospitals into turmoil, inundating them with covid patients while forcing many to postpone elective surgeries for months. When the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services evaluated hospitals’ previous three years of readmissions, as it does annually, the government decided to exclude the first half of 2020 because of the chaos caused by the pandemic. CMS also excluded from its calculations Medicare patients who were readmitted with pneumonia across all three years because of the difficulty in distinguishing them from patients with covid.
Akin Demehin, senior director of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, said the changes were warranted. “The covid pandemic did a lot of really unprecedented things to care patterns of hospitals,” he said.
After making th …