Nearly three-quarters of hospitals will be receiving penalties from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2016 for excess readmissions, having failed to prevent enough patients from returning to the hospital 30 days post-discharge. With so many hospitals impacted by penalties, it is understandable that the underlying methodology of the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) is coming under intense scrutiny.
Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine in September hit upon many of the myriad factors—often outside of the hospital or providers’ control—that influence whether a patient is readmitted to the hospital. This information adds weight to criticism of the measures included in the HRRP and asserts the need to refine or reform the measures to better account for readmissions preventable through the interventions of the healthcare system. The behavior these measures are meant to curb, including poor quality care, inadequate access to follow-up or medications, and gaps in transitions of care, are not identifiable within broad-based, all-cause readmission measures. Instead, hospitals are being penalized for all readmissions, a majority of which may be attributable to community or patient-related factors, such as sociodemographic or housing status, among other variables.
A growing consensus on two fronts asserts that these measures, as currently structured, might not be appropriate for use in pay-for-performance programs. Measure developers, bolstered by a recent decision by the National Quality Forum to institute a trial run of risk adjusting measures for sociodemographic status, are exploring the impact of using different available variables to enhance risk adjusting their measures. Measures for readmissions are at the front of the line of these efforts. Although it is only in the beginning stages, this work could change the foundation of all quality measures used in pay-for-performance programs.
In Congress, legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate aiming to refine the HRRP through additional risk adjustments. The Establishing Beneficiary Equity in the Hospital Readmission Program Act of 2015 (H.R. 1343 and S. 688), introduced by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), would create immediate relief for hospitals by implementing risk adjustment for dual-eligible patients and the socioeconomic status of the hospital’s patients. At the same time, when reports that are currently in progress about risk adjustment in readmission measures and the use of a 30-day window for categorizing readmissions are completed, CMS would be required to incorporate their findings into the risk adjustment in the HRRP in the future.
SHM is supporting both of these pathways toward improving risk adjustment in readmissions measures. By engaging in the measure process and advocating for the passage of legislation to refine risk adjustment, SHM has taken a stand. The goal of reducing preventable readmissions is too important to use imprecise metrics that seem to penalize the hospitals serving the nation’s neediest patients.
As hospitalists on the front line, you can join SHM in advocating for these common sense, and necessary, changes to the HRRP.
Visit SHM’s Legislative Action Center to send a message to Congress in support of the Establishing Beneficiary Equity in the Hospital Readmission Program Act of 2015.
Joshua Lapps is SHM’s government relations manager.