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Category: Industry News

Hospitals are Throwing Out Organs & Denying Transplants to Meet Federal Standards

From: STAT – 8/11/16

Article Excerpt:

Hospitals across the United States are throwing away less-than-perfect organs and denying the sickest people lifesaving transplants out of fear that poor surgical outcomes will result in a federal crackdown.

As a result, thousands of patients are losing the chance at surgeries that could significantly prolong their lives, and the altruism of organ donation is being wasted.

“It’s gut-wrenching and mind-boggling,” said Dr. Adel Bozorgzadeh, a transplant surgeon at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.

He coauthored a recent study that showed a sharp uptick in the number of people dropped from organ transplant waiting lists since the federal government set transplant standards in 2007. These standards are tied to federal hospital ratings and Medicare funding, which is the main payer for transplants and a key source of income for hospitals. And hospitals’ ability to meet those standards helps determine their reputation within the medical community. Surgeries involving imperfect organs and extremely ill patients are more risky, so hospitals that do many of them run the risk of poor outcomes that may hurt their performance on the standards.

Soon after the study was published in April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services changed its benchmarks to give hospitals — and surgeries — more leeway to fail. But patients and doctors are still uneasy about the erosion of one of transplantation’s fundamental principles: the sicker you are, the higher you move up the waiting list for donated organs.

“This has been a nightmare, a very expensive nightmare,” said Kathy Barnes, whose husband, James, has been denied a liver transplant by three hospitals, but who is on the waiting list at UMass Memorial.

“Why won’t they do it?” she asked. “It seems like some of them are just looking for an excuse to say no, and I don’t understand that.”

The study by Bozorgzadeh, published by the American College of Surgeons, found that the increasing reluctance to perform transplants on the sickest patients is directly tied to the onset of the standards enforced by CMS.In the first five years after adoption of the standards, more than 4,300 transplant candidates were removed from waiting lists by hospitals.That’s up 86 percent from the 2,311 patients delisted in the five years prior to the regulation.

Bozorgzadeh said the federal regulations are turning transplantation into a numbers game that makes it harder to help patients who deserve a fighting chance.

“If you have young guy who has a 100 percent chance of dying, but only a 30 percent chance of dying with a transplant, you would say, ‘What the hell, give the guy a chance,’” even if the operation might be risky, he said. “But if I make an argument like that, I will be under pressure from all these other stakeholders who would penalize me.”

The number of organs being tossed out has also increased because of concerns that their imperfections could lead to bad outcomes. Last year, 3,159 donated kidneys were discarded, up 20 percent from 2007, according to federal data.

“To me, it just doesn’t make any sense,” said Howard Nathan, chief executive of a Gift of Life Donor Program based in Philadelphia. “We have hundreds of thousands of people on dialysis. And you have these kidneys available that would work … but transplant centers are afraid to use them because they might pull their results down.”

The trend also has a financial impact — not just on the patients, but on American taxpayers.

As federal regulators have noted, it costs the Medicare program more in the long run to keep patients with ailing kidneys on dialysis than to give them organ transplants. Transplant patients also tend to live longer and have a better quality of life.

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Mississippi Medical Center Hit with $2.75M Fine for Privacy Breach

From: The Hill – 7/25/16

The Department of Health and Human Services hit the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) with a $2.75 million fine over a health data breach, its second major privacy action in a week.

The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is penalizing UMMC for a series of alleged privacy and security violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA. The settlement relates to a password-protected laptop that went missing from the hospital’s intensive care unit in March 2013. After an investigation, the medical center determined the computer was likely stolen by a visitor who had asked to borrow it.

According to the Office of Civil Rights, the hospital’s network was easily accessed with a “generic” username and password, granting access to the protected health information of 10,000 patients. UMMC said the laptop was assigned to the unit, and while accessing the network required individual log-ins, accessing the patient record database did not.

The settlement also called for a three-year corrective action plan that addresses the deficiencies the agency found in its investigation. Specifically, officials alleged that the medical center failed to install physical safeguards for workstations containing protected data, failed to implement tracking features for users accessing electronic health information and failed to notify all individuals affected by the breaches. The medical center did not admit liability in the settlement.

In a statement, they admitted to some of the shortcomings but said that there is no evidence that any protected data were accessed.

“In the last several years, UMMC has initiated substantial improvements in its information security program,” the statement reads. “Among other initiatives, the Medical Center is requiring that all laptop computers have encryption software installed, restructured the role and reporting relationships of its Chief Information Security Officer, and brought in an outside firm for a complete assessment and overhaul of its IT security program.”

On July 18, the Office of Civil Rights settled another HIPAA case with Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) for $2.7 million after four breaches in 2012 and 2013 compromised the data of more than 3,000 individuals. In those cases, two unencrypted laptops and one unencrypted thumb drive were lost or stolen. Government officials also said the hospital failed to implement a required security agreement with a cloud service provider where health data were stored.

The university agreed to a three-year corrective action plan to address the alleged shortcomings in its security procedures, but the hospital did not admit liability in the settlement. The university said there have been no reports that the data have been mishandled and that it had expanded computer encryption software across its network.

The recent string of settlements highlights the OCR’s intention to step up enforcement as health data breaches continue to make headlines. On June 29, OCR announced its first HIPAA settlement with a business associate, or contractor, that handles medical data for organizations like hospitals and insurance companies.

The fines come as the agency kicks off its highly anticipated second phase of HIPAA audits, after a long delay following its pilot program in 2012. On July 11, OCR notified 167 healthcare organizations — or covered entities, as they’re known under HIPAA — of their selection for the probe’s desk audit portion. The agency eventually plans to initiate on-site audits.

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Mississippi Medical Center Hit with $2.75M Fine for Privacy Breach

 

 

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Many Well-Known Hospitals Fail to Score 5 Stars in Medicare’s New Rating

From: Kaiser Health News – 7/27/16

Article Excerpt:

The federal government released its first overall hospital quality rating on Wednesday, slapping average or below average scores on many of the nation’s best-known hospitals while awarding top scores to dozens of unheralded ones.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated 3,617 hospitals on a one- to five-star scale, angering the hospital industry, which has been pressing the Obama administration and Congress to block the ratings. Hospitals argue the ratings will make places that treat the toughest cases look bad, but Medicare has held firm, saying that consumers need a simple way to objectively gauge quality. Medicare does factor in the health of patients when comparing hospitals, though not as much as some hospitals would like.

Just 102 hospitals received the top rating of five stars, and few are those considered as the nation’s best by private ratings sources such as U.S. News & World Report or viewed as the most elite within the medical profession.

Medicare awarded five stars to relatively obscure hospitals and at least 40 hospitals that specialize in just a few types of surgery, such as knee replacements. There were more five-star hospitals in Lincoln, Neb., and La Jolla, Calif., than in New York City or Boston. Memorial Hermann Hospital System in Houston and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., were two of the  nationally known hospitals getting five stars.

Medicare awarded the lowest rating of one star to 129 hospitals. Five hospitals in Washington, D.C., received just one star, including George Washington University Hospital and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, both of which teach medical residents. Nine hospitals in Brooklyn, four hospitals in Las Vegas and three hospitals in Miami received only one star.

“Consumers can use this trustworthy program to compare hospitals side by side,” said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington nonprofit. “This is a huge step forward.”

Some premier medical centers received the second highest rating of four stars, including Stanford Health Care in California, Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., New York-Presbyterian Hospital and NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. In total, 927 hospitals received four stars.

Medicare gave its below average score of two-star ratings to 707 hospitals. They included the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan, North Shore University Hospital (now known as Northwell Health) in Manhasset, N.Y., Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Tufts Medical Center in Boston and MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C. Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., which is a favorite example for national health policy experts of a quality hospital, also received two stars.

Nearly half the hospitals — 1,752 — received an average rating of three stars. Another 1,042 hospitals were not rated, either because they did not have enough cases for the government to evaluate accurately, or, as with all Maryland hospitals, Medicare does not collect the necessary data.

Medicare based the star ratings on 64 individual measures that are published on its Hospital Compare website, including death and infection rates and patient reviews. Medicare noted that specialized and “cutting-edge care,” such as the latest techniques to battle cancer, are not reflected in the ratings.

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