Hospitals to avoid stroke treatment with weak Medicare reimbursements

Medicare may be shortchanging hospitals for stroke therapy, Reuters reported Friday. A recent study published in the journal Stroke found that treatment using particular clotting drugs costs U.S. hospitals substantially more than Medicare doles out, which could have hospitals pulling out from such treatment in the long run, the news agency reported.

Researchers looked at hospitalizations from 2001 to 2008 for ischemic stroke patients treated with intravenous thrombolysis, an IV medication that can help break up the clot and limit brain damage from stroke. The researchers found that it costs hospitals $14,102 (in 2008 dollars) to care for a patient who had a good outcome, compared to $10,098 that Medicare pays, according to the study. It costs hospitals $18,856 for patients with severe complications and $19,129 for patients that die, compared to only $13,835 in Medicare payment for patients who had disabling strokes.

The discrepancy in cost of care versus Medicare payments suggests that hospitals could change their investments in stroke treatment centers in the future, the article noted.

"It could affect availability (of tPA) if some hospitals lose interest in treating a disease they are losing money on," senior researcher Harry J. Cloft of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told Reuters.

However, in the meantime, Cloft said patients shouldn't worry that hospitals won't treat them for pricey stroke treatments if they were to go to the hospital tomorrow.

For more information:
- read the Reuters article
- check out the study abstract