More Insurers Refuse Payment for Medical Errors at Hospitals
Several private health insurers, such as Aetna and WellPoint, have moved to end reimbursements to hospitals for treatment that results from serious medical errors, the Wall Street Journal reports. The insurers also will not allow their members to be billed for hospital errors.
Last year, CMS announced a rule under which Medicare after September 2007 no longer will reimburse hospitals for the treatment of bed sores, falls and six other preventable conditions that occur in the facilities. CMS next year plans to add to the list hospital-acquired infections, blood clots in legs and lungs, and pneumonia contracted from a ventilator.
In hospital contracts that require renewal, Aetna has begun to include a provision that ends reimbursements for 28 "never events" outlined by the National Quality Forum. In Virginia, WellPoint has begun to test a similar policy that ends reimbursements for four never events, and the company plans to expand the policy to Georgia, New England and New York in the near future. UnitedHealth Group and Cigna have considered policies similar to the CMS rule.
According to the Journal, although private health insurers are "looking first at banning reimbursements for only the gravest mistakes," such as surgeries on the wrong limbs and the administration of incompatible blood, "it is only a matter of time before the industry also stops paying for some of the more common and less clear-cut problems that Medicare is tackling, such as hospital-acquired catheter infections or blood poisoning." Health insurers maintain that the policies will help improve patient safety and reduce health care costs.
However, some hospitals and others have raised concerns that the "new strategy could drive up medical costs in other ways as hospitals absorb or pass on the expense of introducing the safety and screening procedures needed to help avoid mistakes," the Journal reports (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 1/15).