Blood transfusion practices in dialysis patients in a dynamic regulatory environment

Am J Kidney Dis. 2014 Oct;64(4):616-21. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2014.01.011. Epub 2014 Feb 19.


Background: In 2011, Medicare implemented a prospective payment system (PPS) covering an expanded bundle of services that excluded blood transfusions. This led to concern about inappropriate substitution of transfusions for other anemia management methods.

Study design: Medicare claims were used to calculate transfusion rates among dialysis patients pre- and post-PPS. Linear probability regressions adjusted transfusion trends for patient characteristics.

Setting & participants: Dialysis patients for whom Medicare was the primary payer between 2008 and 2012.

Predictor: Pre-PPS (2008-2010) versus post-PPS (2011-2012).

Outcomes & measurements: Monthly and annual probability of receiving one or more blood transfusions.

Results: Monthly rates of one or more transfusions varied from 3.8%-4.8% and tended to be lowest in 2010. Annual rates of transfusion events per patient were -10% higher in relative terms post-PPS, but the absolute magnitude of the increase was modest (-0.05 events/patient). A larger proportion received 4 or more transfusions (3.3% in 2011 and 2012 vs 2.7%-2.8% in prior years). Controlling for patient characteristics, the monthly probability of receiving a transfusion was significantly higher post-PPS (β = 0.0034; P < 0.001), representing an -7% relative increase. Transfusions were more likely for females and patients with more comorbid conditions and less likely for blacks both pre- and post-PPS.

Limitations: Possible underidentification of transfusions in the Medicare claims, particularly in the inpatient setting. Also, we do not observe which patients might be appropriate candidates for kidney transplantation.

Conclusions: Transfusion rates increased post-PPS, but these increases were modest in both absolute and relative terms. The largest increase occurred for patients already receiving several transfusions. Although these findings may reduce concerns regarding the impact of Medicare's PPS on inappropriate transfusions that impair access to kidney transplantation or stress blood bank resources, transfusions should continue to be monitored.

Keywords: Medicare; Transfusion; anemia; composite rate services; costs; dialysis; end-stage renal disease (ESRD); incentives; kidney transplantation eligibility; medications; prospective payment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / therapy*
  • Blood Transfusion / economics*
  • Comorbidity
  • Eligibility Determination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance Claim Review
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / complications
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / economics
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care Management / economics
  • Probability
  • Prospective Payment System / statistics & numerical data*
  • Renal Dialysis* / economics
  • Renal Dialysis* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States