Study: Rehospitalizations--some of which are preventable--cost billions

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More than 50% of Medicare patients are rehospitalized within 12 months of discharge and 20% wind up back in the hospital after only 30 days. That adds up, according to a report published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Study author Dr. Stephen F. Jencks and his team of researchers analyzed data from Medicare claims filed between October 2003 and December 2004, and found that the high rate of rehospitalization accounted for an estimated $17.4 billion in potentially preventable healthcare spending in 2004. According to Jencks, the compartmentalization of different healthcare services, be they at a hospital, nursing home or doctor's office, leads to much of the increased risk for rehospitalization. Careful and successful transition between these care settings can help prevent rehospitalization and bring down some of the costs of healthcare, he suggests.

In his fiscal year 2010 budget, President Obama has suggested "bundling" of hospital reimbursements as a way to bring down the cost of healthcare. Obama proposes combining payments for certain inpatient and post-acute care services given for 30 days after hospitalization, and decreasing those reimbursements in the event of rehospitalization. The American Health Care Association opposes this proposal.