Ga. hospitals in middle of pack on quality bonuses

Slightly more than half of Georgia hospitals are receiving individual bonuses from Medicare for the quality of their services, a new analysis has found.

Medicare last month announced bonuses and penalties for nearly 3,000 U.S. hospitals as it links almost $1 billion in payments to the quality of care given to patients.

The state’s average of 51 percent of hospitals getting bonuses – and 49 percent getting penalties – tracks roughly with the national average of 52 percent and 48 percent, respectively, the Kaiser Health News analysis shows.

It’s part of a move by government and private insurers toward rewarding medical providers based on their quality of care, not the quantity of services.

The payment changes, which begin this month, mark the federal government’s most extensive effort yet to hold hospitals financially accountable for what happens to patients, a Kaiser Health News article said last month.

Eight of the current 25 quality standards, Yahoo News reported, are based on patient satisfaction: communication with nurses; communication with doctors; responsiveness of hospital staff; pain management; communication about medicines; cleanliness and quietness of hospital environment; discharge information and overall rating of the hospital.

The rest are based on  how often hospitals followed clinical standards of care, such as controlling heart surgery patients’  blood sugar levels and giving them beta blockers to lower their blood pressure.

Some other Southern states had higher percentages of hospitals getting bonuses than did Georgia. In both North Carolina and South Carolina, 69 percent of hospitals are receiving the extra payments; Alabama, 64 percent; Florida, 57 percent; Kentucky, 53 percent.

Louisiana equaled Georgia’s 51 percent performance. Performing worse than Georgia were hospitals in Tennessee, at 40 percent, and Mississippi, at 39 percent.

“While Georgia hospitals finished in the middle of the pack compared to other states in the country, the Georgia hospital community will continue to work hard to ensure that it is among the national leaders,’’ said Kevin Bloye, a Georgia Hospital Association vice president, in a statement to GHN. “Given the wide array of financial challenges facing hospitals today, even the slightest shift in Medicare payments has a huge impact on a hospital’s operations.’’

Bloye said GHA supports the federal payment change. “In the near future, we expect most hospitals in the state to be benefiting from the quality-related bonuses.”

The maximum amount any hospital could gain or lose was 1 percent of its regular Medicare payments.

For nearly two-thirds of the hospitals, the changes are less than a quarter of a percent, KHN said. Still, for hospitals with a high number of Medicare patients, hundreds of thousands of dollars are at stake.

The caps will rise to 2 percent over the next four years.

“To me, it’s the tip of the iceberg for where we are going,” Dr. Michael Henderson, chief of quality at the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic, told Kaiser Health News reporter Jordan Rau. “We’ve been working on this for two or three years, and it really made us strive for excellent performance.”

Here’s how the state’s hospitals stack up overall, with positive numbers indicating a bonus and a negative figure indicating a penalty. (Plug in “Georgia” in the state search box.)