Medicare Reimbursement

In anticipation of the annual announcement of reimbursement rates for Medicare patients, pundits have been warning of a tsunami of hospital bankruptcies once the new rules were implemented. Last year marked a transition to a new cost coding system, one that some feared would significantly reduce reimbursements to hospitals.

On May 1st, CMS published the proposed reimbursement rules (NPRM) to take effect Oct. 1st of this year. Analysts at the independent Congressional agency, the Medicare Payment Assessment Commission, or MedPac, dug into the 1228 pages of data and found only minor changes, and a slight reduction in per patient case rates. Colorado hospitals will see a slight increase.

As Edward Berger reports at MassDevice.com, MedPac found that Medicare reimburses hospital 6 – 8% less than the cost of care. Higher private insurance reimbursements offset this negative impact. In the ongoing debate about public vs private insurance, this would seem to reinforce the opinions of those who say that a greater presence of public insurance and below cost reimbursement rates will close hospitals, force doctors out of business, and reduce the availability of medical care.

However, Berger writes “MedPAC research shows that the hospitals with the highest private insurance margins have the highest Medicare per-case costs; those that can’t achieve high private-payer margins have lower costs across all classes of payer – with no discernable impact on quality.” If this assessment is true, public insurance is achieving an efficiency normally associated with a competitive marketplace, causing hospitals to examine their operations and find cost efficiencies while maintaining the same level of care.

75% of nursing homes’ revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid. When Medicare reduced their payments in the late nineties, a number of nursing homes went bankrupt. Due to the weak economy, many nursing homes were worried that there would be no annual reimbursement increase.

On May 12th, CMS published their 110 page set of proposed rules, specifying a 2.1% increase in Medicare reimbursement rates effective October 1st. While not as large as the 3+% increase of last year, it is an increase in an economy with a negative year over year CPI cost index.

Tight state budgets may impact Medicaid reimbursement to nursing homes. A more complete analysis of the Medicaid fiscal environment can be found here from a CPA at healthlawyers.org.

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