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Medicare fines over hospitals' readmitted patients

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2012 10:50 p.m. MDT

In this Aug. 25, 2011 photo, registered nurse Mary Schlitter, left, speaks to heart patient Maria Marure, with the help of medical interpreter Marina Moreno at Our Lady of the Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — If you or an elderly relative have been hospitalized recently and noticed extra attention when the time came to be discharged, there's more to it than good customer service.

As of Monday, Medicare will start fining hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications. The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama's health care law to improve quality while also trying to save taxpayers money.

About two-thirds of the hospitals serving Medicare patients, or some 2,200 facilities, will be hit with penalties averaging around $125,000 per facility this coming year, according to government estimates.

Data to assess the penalties have been collected and crunched, and Medicare has shared the results with individual hospitals. Medicare plans to post details online later in October, and people can look up how their community hospitals performed by using the agency's "Hospital Compare" website.

It adds up to a new way of doing business for hospitals, and they have scrambled to prepare for well over a year. They are working on ways to improve communication with rehabilitation centers and doctors who follow patients after they're released, as well as connecting individually with patients.

"There is a lot of activity at the hospital level to straighten out our internal processes," said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and safety at the American Hospital Association. "We are also spreading our wings a little and reaching outside the hospital, to the extent that we can, to make sure patients are getting the ongoing treatment they need."

Still, industry officials say they have misgivings about being held liable for circumstances beyond their control.

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