DALLAS – U.S. hospitals have recently shown a consistent and disturbing disconnect between reductions in their heart failure hospital readmission rates and heart failure mortality. Readmissions have dropped while mortality has risen.
“Despite reductions in 30-day heart failure readmissions in 89% of U.S. hospitals” during 2009-2016, “30-day heart failure mortality rates increased at 73%* of these ‘successful’ hospitals” during the same period,”, said at the annual scientific meeting of the Heart Failure Society of America.
These shifts in the outcomes of U.S. patients hospitalized for acute heart failure episodes are tied to the penalties that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services began slapping on hospitals in 2013 for excess 30-day readmissions for heart failure patients and in 2014 for excess mortality. A problem with these two CMS programs is that the penalty on inferior readmissions performance is a lot stiffer than for excess mortality, Dr. Aziz noted: a 0.2% penalty on payments for high mortality, compared with a 3% penalty for excess readmissions, a disparity that can make hospitals focus more on the readmissions side, he suggested.
Dr. Aziz’s report isn’t the first to make this observation. Study results published earlier in 2017 used CMS Medicare data from 2008 to 2014 to show that during that period, heart failure 30-day mortality rates following hospital discharge rose by 1.3%, while 30-day readmissions fell by 2.1% (). On the basis of these numbers, as many as 5,200 additional deaths to U.S. heart failure patients in 2014 “may be related to the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program” of CMS, , said during a separate talk at the meeting.
The analysis reported by Dr. Aziz included data from 3,265 U.S. hospitals for heart failure patients, and data from 1,621 hospitals that managed patients with acute MIs, another disease that the CMS has targeted for penalties based on 30-day readmissions and 30-day postdischarge mortality rates. During the 8-year period studied, heart failure 30-day readmissions fell by 2.2% while 30-day mortality rose by 1%. In contrast, among acute MI patients, readmissions fell by 3% and mortality also fell, by 2.2%, Dr. Abdul-Aziz
Dr. Abdul-Aziz had no disclosures. Dr. Fonarow had been a consultant to Amgen, Janssen, Medtronic, Novartis, St. Jude, and ZS Pharma.