Medicare fining hospitals for frequent readmission

Thursday, October 4, 2012
Chris Woodward (

Beginning this week, Medicare is fining hospitals that have too many patients readmitted due to complications within 30 days of discharge. This leads to the question of who gets sued if a patient dies -- and what will this mean for non-profit, church-operated hospitals?

Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), says hospitals will be the ones facing any lawsuits.

Orient, Dr. Jane (AAPS)"It's kind of pointless to sue Medicare," she says. "Medicare will say it is the doctor's responsibility to decide whether the patient needs admission."

What about the Hippocratic Oath that medical professionals take? Is Medicare, which is imposing these new penalties as part of language in the new healthcare law, saying it knows better than doctors?

"Oh, of course Medicare knows best, and it's going to improve quality and improve outcomes by its reimbursement policies -- that everybody is going to get well and stay well if we only punish people for taking care of them when they're sick," Dr. Orient describes the premise behind the decision.

"Of course, this is just completely absurd. We know that this has to lead to encouraging the early demise of patients."

Also, Orient says no one should rely on the Oath of Hippocrates, adding that physicians are not taking that anymore, and the oath that they do take often has been modified to exclude things like "do no harm."

Meanwhile, there are serious concerns for non-profit and church-affiliated hospitals. According to Kaiser Health News, more than 2,000 hospitals, including some nationally recognized ones, will forfeit about $280 million in Medicare funds for excess readmissions.

"I think there is concern that the hospitals that will suffer from this the most are the ones who provide the most conscientious care and who really try to give every patient the best possible opportunity to recover," Orient indicates.

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