An annual government report on Medicare patient mortality rates is flawed and inaccurate, said Richard Kinnersley, president of the Utah Hospital Association.

"We don't like the way the report is released and the misuse of the information," Kinnersley said.The controversial report, released earlier this month by the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, said 65 percent of Utah hospitals have higher-than-expected death rates for Medicare patients.

In the report, administration director, Gail Wilensky cautions that death rates aren't a direct measure of quality of care hospitals provide. But she said large differences between actual and expected death rates are signs that problems may exist. She advised consumers to talk to hospitals and doctors about the reasons behind the numbers.

Kinnersley said that isn't enough. "We don't buy the little cop-out statement that Gail Wilensky puts in the statement that says it does not measure quality."

Virtually every Utah hospital falls into the agency's accepted range of death, Kinnersley said, but the report doesn't calculate the range. Instead, they just release misleading data and expect reporters to take it to their statisticians.

And Kinnersley said he's especially opposed to the part of the study that tracks patients six months after they are released from the hospital. A patient killed as a result of a traffic accident after being released from LDS Hospital was tallied in the hospital's mortality rate.

Also it's difficult to compare deaths. For example, sicker patients are routinely transferred to tertiary care hospitals like LDS and University. It makes sense that if a hospital has more sick patients in their facility, some might die.

Then there's Bear River Valley Hospital in Tremonton. The report said the hospital had a 1989 death rate of 50 percent - 21/2 times what is expected. Hospital administrator Robert F. Jex wrote in a statement included in the report that this is because most Medicare patients suffering congestive heart failure are transferred within 30 days of admittance. "Those that we keep are so unstable that they are not good risks for transfer - hence the higher mortality rate."

Kinnersley said hospitals didn't see the report until it was reported in the media. He said it shouldn't be released if it isn't stated more accurately.