Few savings for Medicare generated from hospital penalties

Last year, on October 1, 2008, Medicare adopted a policy that refuses to pay hospitals' extra costs to treat 10 hospital-acquired infections and injuries, with the goal of cutting costs and saving lives. In a recent study, the Wall Street Journal reports that the government will not be saving much from this year-old policy.

According to the Journal, the study by California researchers, to be published Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs, examined California discharge data for Medicare beneficiaries in 2006, looking for six conditions the authors deemed "definable." They found that out of 767,995 cases in all, 828 cases involved those conditions, and only 26 of the cases would have been subject to lower payments.  The authors wrote the California example would translate to $1.1 million to $2.7 million in annual savings if applied nationwide -- pocket change for the more than $400 billion Medicare program.

Medicare adopted the policy last year with the goal of saving lives and cutting costs. Each year, about 1.7 million Americans acquire infections while in the hospital, and 99,000 of them die, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled, stopped paying the extra costs of treating 10 hospital injuries and infections beginning Oct. 1, 2008.

(HCPro Accreditation Connection, http://hcpro.com, September 14, 2009; The Wall Street Journal, http://wsj.com, accessed September 14, 2009)