CMS announces declining readmission rate for Medicare patients, credits Affordable Care Act

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Improved transitions between acute and post-acute settings are partly responsible for continuing nationwide declines in hospital readmission rates, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

After being at 19% for four years, the all-cause 30-day hospital readmission rate for Medicare beneficiaries began to decrease in 2012, CMS data shows. The rate reached 18.5% last year, when Affordable Care Act policies intended to prevent readmissions took effect.

Over the first eight months of 2013, the Medicare readmission rate averaged less than 18%, CMS announced in a blog post Friday.

A number of ACA provisions explain the trend, the blog argued. For example, the healthcare reform law created transitions programs to improve outcomes for patients moving from hospitals to other care settings. It also imposed payment penalties for hospitals exceeding certain readmissions thresholds.

The decrease in Medicare readmissions was widespread, according to the CMS data. Three-quarters of local markets recorded a decrease of at least half a percentage point. Utah, which already had a low readmission rate, was the only state that did not see a decrease.

These numbers might provide support for the expansion of ACA readmissions policies, including penalties for skilled nursing facilities. This was put forward in the White House's proposed 2014 budget and in draft legislation introduced in the House Ways & Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).