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Medicare penalizes 40 hospitals in Florida for patient safety incidents

doctors in a hospital
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is required each year to punish a quarter of general care hospitals that show the highest rates of patient safety issues.

The penalized hospitals will lose 1% of their Medicare payments for 12 months. The penalties started in October and run through September, following the federal fiscal year.

Forty hospitals in Florida, including seven in the greater Tampa Bay region, will lose 1% of their Medicare payments for a year because they had too many patients with infections or complications.

Eleven of the Florida hospitals are being penalized for the fifth year in a row, according to an analysis of the federal data from Kaiser Health News.

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg was the only hospital in the greater Tampa Bay region to be penalized for the sixth straight year. The city’s oldest and largest hospital was sold by Community Health Systems to the non-profit Orlando Health in October 2020. 

This year's penalties are based on numbers from July 2018 through June 2019, so a spokesman from Orlando Health referred a reporter to Bayfront’s previous owner Community Health Systems, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Community Health Systems also owns Bayfront Health Seven Rivers in Crystal River, which was penalized for the fifth year in a row. The hospital has since changed its name to Bravera Health Seven Rivers. 

Other local hospitals that faced multiple years of penalties are Palms of Pasadena in St. Petersburg (5), Lakeland Regional (3), St. Petersburg General (2) and Winter Haven Hospital (2). 

South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City was penalized for the first time since the penalties began in 2015. 

Representatives from the hospitals did not respond to requests for comment. 

The penalized hospitals will lose 1 percent of their Medicare payments for 12 months. The penalties started in October and run through September, following the federal fiscal year.  

The penalty is determined by how much a hospital will bill Medicare from health complications and patient infections.

The program was established eight years ago through the Affordable Care Act.  Its goal is to encourage hospitals to “implement best practices to reduce their rates of healthcare-associated infections and improve patient safety.”

The penalties are intended to help hospitals focus on the most common complications, such as infections, hip fractures, blood clots and bedsores.

In a separate measure, the federal government also cuts payments to hospitals that show high readmission rates. Medicare can cut up to 3% for each patient that is readmitted. 

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is required each year to punish a quarter of general care hospitals that show the highest rates of patient safety issues.

A total of 2,046 hospitals have been penalized at least once for high incidents of infections and patient injuries, with 764 hospitals affected this year, according Kaiser Health News. 

When the program began, the main goal was to prevent avoidable complications in hospitals. However, hospital leaders have questioned its merits, saying the program is required to penalize a quarter of the lowest ranking hospitals each year, despite improvements they have made to their overall performance. And the American Hospital Association says only about 41 percent of the 768 hospitals penalized in 2017 had scores significantly lower than hospitals that were not penalized.

Also, hospitals who do the best job of finding deficiencies and those who perform higher rates of charity care often face the most penalties. 

Katrine Bruner is the WUSF Rush Family/Health News Florida intern for spring 2022.