Was the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program a Success?

To address high readmission rates among Medicare patients, the Affordable Care Act launched the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program in 2012. It penalized hospitals with 30-day readmission rates exceeding national averages by withholding up to 3 percent of Medicare payments.

At first glance, the program appears to have accomplished its goals of improving transitional care through better discharge instructions, more follow-up on referrals, and home visits. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, a nonpartisan panel that advises Congress, reported last year that the program had reduced readmissions – saving Medicare more than $2 billion per year.

However, critics are concerned that the effects of the program are overstated, wondering, as The New York Times put it, if “Medicare patients getting better care, or [are] being kept out of hospitals to avoid readmission penalties?” A 2018 study published in JAMA reported that deaths from heart failure and pneumonia within 30 days of discharge have risen since the program began. “There’s a cloud over this,” Robert Yeh, MD, senior author of the study, told The New York Times.

Critics have called on Congress and Medicare to revise the program.

Source: The New York Times, January 18, 2019.