With penalties for preventable hospital readmissions looming, recently released Medicare data shows that U.S. hospitals aren’t making much progress in lowering readmission rates. While this is not great news for hospitals, it presents an opportunity for post-acute providers.

According to new data published Thursday on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website, readmission rates for heart failure were 24.7% for years spanning July 2008 to June 2011, a decrease of 0.1% from the previous year’s numbers. Readmissions for pneumonia grew 0.1% to 18.5% of all Medicare pneumonia patients, from 2010 to 2011. Starting Oct. 1, 2012, hospitals will face penalties for readmissions for patients with conditions such as heart failure and pneumonia.

But health policy experts say hospital readmission penalties have the power to transform relationships between hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Thanks to ACA payment reforms such as accountable care organizations and bundled payment initiatives, SNFs have much to gain by partnering with hospitals if they can prove that they can help hospitals reduce preventable readmissions. Bundled payment initiatives and ACOs provide financial incentives for providers that reduce readmissions.