'Frequent fliers' cost health system billions

Frequent readmissions are never a good thing for a hospital's reputation, but they happen nonetheless. Usually elderly, and chronically ill, their care accounts for 75 percent of healthcare spending, experts estimate. The question, as reforms loom on the horizon, is how many of these readmissions could have been avoided by improvements in care coordination and management?

Not only are they stressful for patients, readmissions cost a fortune. With one in five Medicare hospital patients returning to the hospital within 30 days, the government health plan pays an extra $12 billion to $15 billion per year, according to one analysis of 2007 data.

To discourage hospitals from dropping the ball when patients transition from inpatient care to other settings, some legislators are looking at offering a collective "bundled" payment to hospitals, doctors and perhaps even long-term care and rehab facilities. This payment would cover not only inpatient services, but also care in the weeks after discharge.

Proposals are also under consideration that would have Medicare penalize hospitals with high readmission rates for a set of eight chronic diseases. This idea is getting mixed support from the American Hospital Association, which says it's time to address the readmission problem, but wants to see pilot programs rolled out to test new reimbursement schedules before they're implemented.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this Washington Post article