Does It Pay to Penalize Hospitals for Excess Readmissions? Intended and Unintended Consequences of Medicare's Hospital Readmissions Reductions Program

Health Econ. 2017 Aug;26(8):1037-1051. doi: 10.1002/hec.3382. Epub 2016 Jul 15.


To incentivize hospitals to provide better quality care at a lower cost, the Affordable Care Act of 2010 included the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), which reduces payments to hospitals with excess 30-day readmissions for Medicare patients treated for certain conditions. We use triple difference estimation to identify the HRRP's effects in Virginia hospitals; this method estimates the difference in changes in readmission over time between patients targeted by the policy and a comparison group of patients and then compares those difference-in-differences estimates in patients treated at hospitals with readmission rates above the national average (i.e., those at risk for penalties) and patients treated at hospitals with readmission rates below or equal to the national average (those not at risk). We find that the HRRP significantly reduced readmission for Medicare patients treated for acute myocardial infarction (AMI). We find no evidence that hospitals delay readmissions, treat patients with greater intensity, or alter discharge status in response to the HRRP, nor do we find changes in the age, race/ethnicity, health status, and socioeconomic status of patients admitted for AMI. Future research on the specific mechanisms behind reduced AMI readmissions should focus on actions by healthcare providers once the patient has left the hospital. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Keywords: Medicare; hospitals; pay-for-performance; readmissions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Hospitals*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics*
  • Myocardial Infarction / therapy
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Patient Readmission / economics
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • United States
  • Virginia