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KHN: Death Rates Rise at Rural Hospitals April 3, 2013

Jordan Rau of Kaiser Health News writes about a new study showing death rates are rising at rural hospitals, and Medicare’s prop-up payments aren’t helping.

For 15 years, Congress has bestowed special privileges to some small remote hospitals, usually in rural areas, to help them stay afloat. Medicare pays them more than it pays most hospitals and exempts them from financial pressure to operate efficiently and requirements to reveal how their patients fare. Nearly one in four hospitals qualifies for the program.

Despite these benefits, there’s new evidence that the quality of many of these hospitals may be deteriorating. A study published Tuesday found that during the past decade the death rates of patients at these critical access hospitals were growing while mortality rates at other hospitals were dropping.

“This carved-out group of hospitals seems to be falling further and further behind,” said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Karen Joynt of the Harvard School of Public Health.

… “This is 1,000 hospitals, a quarter of the hospitals in the country, that are invisible,” she said. “We’ve created a completely separate system, and in this case it looks like that has not done patients in these hospitals any favors.”

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