September 1, 2007

New Medicare Regulations Adopted to Reduce HAIs and Medical Errors

WASHINGTON, D.C. Under new Medicare regulations, hospitals will no longer receive higher payments for the additional costs associated with treating patients for certain hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) and medical errors. The new rules will give hospitals a powerful new incentive to improve patient care, according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

Every year, millions of Americans suffer needlessly from preventable hospital infections and medical errors, says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Unions Stop Hospital Infections campaign. These new rules are a good beginning for Medicare to use its clout to mobilize hospitals to improve care and keep patients safe.

Under the rules adopted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), payments will be withheld from hospitals for care associated with treating certain catheter-associated urinary tract infections (UTIs), vascular catheter-associated infections, mediastinitis after coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery and five other medical errors unrelated to infections (bed sores, objects left in patients bodies, blood incompatibility, air embolism and falls). The new rules will go into effect in October 2008.

To comply with a 2005 law passed by Congress, CMS evaluated a number of serious, preventable healthcare-acquired conditions and identified these eight for the first round of non-payment due to the high volume of patients affected, the high cost of treating patients and the existence of prevention guidelines. The agency intends to consider other HAIs and medical errors for non-payment in future years.

The new Medicare regulations include protections to prevent hospitals from billing patients when payments are withheld and to minimize avoidance of patients perceived to be at risk for infections.

We are pleased that the rules clearly state that hospitals cannot bill patients for the amount that Medicare refuses to pay, McGiffert adds. CMS will need to make sure these protections are enforced so patients are treated fairly. And the agency should be on the lookout for hospitals that try to game the system by falsifying codes to avoid nonpayment.

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections are the most common infection developed by patients in hospitals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that there are 561,667 catheter-associated UTIs per year. According to a study in the American Journal of Medicine, the annual cost of UTIs in hospitals is as much as $451 million.

Bloodstream infections are high in volume and cost and are preventable. The CDC has reported that there are 248,678 cases of central line associated bloodstream infections every year. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) estimates that approximately 14,000 people die every year from central line-related bloodstream infections.

According to Consumers Union, CMS failed to address the incidence of infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to CMS, more than 95,000 Medicare patients had MRSA infections in 2005, running up hospital charges of almost $3 billion. MRSA was not selected for nonpayment because of coding issues and because CMS does not believe there is a consensus among public health experts that MRSA [infection] is preventable.

CMS needs to take strong action to curb the spread of this powerful superbug, McGiffert emphasizes. Many hospitals do not share the attitude that MRSA infections cannot be prevented and CMS should be on the front lines with them fighting this deadly and costly problem.

HAIs are a leading cause of death in the United States. CDC estimates that 2 million patients suffer from hospital infections every year and nearly 100,000 of them die. Research shows that hospitals could prevent many infections through stricter adherence to proven infection control practices. The financial costs associated with hospital infections are equally staggering.

John A. Jernigan, MD, chief of interventions and evaluations at the CDC, has said that HAIs result in up to $27.5 billion in additional healthcare expenses annually. Medicare foots the bill for a big portion of infectionrelated healthcare costs. A 2005 report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council found that Medicare was billed for 67 percent of the total number of patient infections reported by the states hospitals.

Taxpayers spend billions of dollars every year covering the cost of patient infections, McGiffert says. Restricting Medicare payments for medical errors like patient infections will help ensure that the healthcare taxpayers pay for is safe and effective.

Source: Consumers Union

Study Suggests Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions May Be Helpful

An analysis of non-pharmaceutical interventions used in the United States during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, such as closing schools and banning public gatherings, found an association between these interventions and reduced death rates, suggesting that non-pharmaceutical interventions may play a role in planning for future influenza pandemics, according to a study in the Aug. 8 issue of JAMA.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 is among the most deadly contagious events in human history, resulting in approximately 40 million deaths worldwide, including 550,000 in the United States, according to background information in the article. The historical record demonstrates that when faced with a devastating pandemic, many nations, communities and individuals adopt what they perceive to be effective social distancing measures or non-pharmaceutical interventions including isolation of those who are ill, quarantine of those suspected of having contact with those who are ill, school and selected business closure, and public gathering cancellations. One compelling question emerges: can lessons from the 1918-1919 pandemic be applied to contemporary pandemic planning efforts to maximize public health benefit while minimizing the disruptive social consequences of the pandemic as well as those accompanying public health response measures? the authors write.

Howard Markel, MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and colleagues assessed the non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented in 43 cities in the continental United States from September 1918 through February 1919 to determine whether cityto- city variation in death rates were associated with the timing, duration and combination of non-pharmaceutical interventions. The researchers conducted historical archival research and statistical and epidemiological analyses. Non-pharmaceutical interventions were grouped into three major categories: school closure; cancellation of public gatherings; and isolation and quarantine.

There were 115,340 excess pneumonia and influenza deaths (excess death rate [EDR], 500/100,000 population) in the 43 cities during the 24 weeks analyzed. Every city adopted at least one of the three major categories of non-pharmaceutical interventions. School closure and public gathering bans activated concurrently represented the most common combination implemented in 34 cities (79 percent); this combination had a median (midpoint) duration of four weeks (range, 1-10 weeks) and was significantly associated with reductions in weekly EDR. The cities that implemented non-pharmaceutical interventions earlier had greater delays in reaching peak rates of death, lower peak rates of death and lower total number of deaths. There was a statistically significant association between increased duration of nonpharmaceutical interventions and a reduced total number of deaths.

These findings contrast with the conventional wisdom that the 1918 pandemic rapidly spread through each community killing everyone in its path. Although these urban communities had neither effective vaccines nor antivirals, cities that were able to organize and execute a suite of classic public health interventions before the pandemic swept fully through the city appeared to have an associated mitigated epidemic experience, the authors write.