Nearly half of Connecticut hospitals – 14 out of 31 – will lose a portion of their Medicare payments in 2017 as a penalty for having too many patients who acquired preventable infections and injuries while hospitalized. The hospitals are among 769 nationwide that will lose one percent of their Medicare reimbursements this year as part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program. The CMS program, now in its third year, penalizes the lowest-performing hospitals where a relatively high number of patients got infections from hysterectomies, colon surgeries, urinary tract catheters and central line tubes. It also takes into account patients who suffered from blood clots, bed sores or falls while hospitalized. New this year, CMS also factored in the incidents where antibiotic-resistant bacteria – namely, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile (C.
The state Medical Examining Board fined a New London obstetrician $5,000 Tuesday for mistakenly cutting ligaments on the sides of a woman’s uterus instead of the fallopian tubes during a tubal ligation. The board also imposed a year of probation on the medical license of Dr. Jeffrey Simpson, who made the error on March 28, 2013 at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London. Simpson did not contest the findings of the medical board and signed a consent order agreeing to the penalty on Oct. 24 of this year. Simpson also agreed to hire a physician to randomly review a portion of his patient records for surgeries he performed, the consent order said.
Hospital administrators in Connecticut who have been involved in the unprecedented streak of mergers and consolidations often tout the financial benefits and efficiencies of such moves. But as the number of independent hospitals in the state dwindles – with more than half of the 29 acute-care hospitals now operating in networks with other hospitals or out-of-state partners – experts and advocates worry that the consolidations will reduce competition in the market and give hospitals more leverage to raise prices. Adding to their concerns is a proposal by a private company to convert four non-profit hospitals to for-profit entities. Several studies, as well as data from the federal Medicare program, suggest that mergers and for-profit conversions may lead to higher prices. But the state has yet to study the impact of mergers on patient pricing, and has no requirement that hospitals try to hold patient charges steady after a merger or conversion. The state also has no comprehensive blueprint guiding hospital configuration or limiting the number of takeovers or networks it will allow.
As a practitioner at Yale-New Haven Hospital, Dr. Leora Horwitz has seen her share of patients who misunderstand medication changes made during their hospital stays. Just recently, one of her female patients, who was switched to a new beta blocker for high blood pressure during an inpatient stay, landed back in the hospital after discharge because she had taken both the new medication and her old beta blocker – a combination that lowered her heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous levels. “Every physician can tell you about these kinds of errors,” Horwitz said. “We do a relatively poor job of educating patients about their medications.”
As a researcher, Horwitz can now quantify those lapses. A recent study she led looked at 377 patients at Yale-New Haven Hospital, ages 64 and older, who had been admitted with heart failure, acute coronary syndrome or pneumonia, then discharged to home. Of that group, 307 patients – or 81 percent — either experienced a provider error in their discharge medications or had no understanding of at least one intended medication change.