Importance: Hospitalizations for durable left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implants are expensive and increasingly common. Insights into center-level variation in Medicare spending for these hospitalizations are needed to inform value improvement efforts.
Objective: To examine center-level variation in Medicare spending for durable LVAD implant hospitalizations and its association with clinical outcomes.
Design, setting, and participants: Retrospective cohort study of linked Medicare administrative claims and Interagency Registry for Mechanically Assisted Circulatory Support (INTERMACS) clinical data comprising 106 centers in the United States providing durable LVAD implant. Centers were grouped into quartiles based on the mean price-standardized Medicare spending of their patients. The study included Medicare beneficiaries receiving primary durable LVAD implant between January 2008 and December 2014. Data were analyzed between November 2017 and October 2018.
Main outcomes and measures: Price-standardized Medicare payments and clinical outcomes. Overall and component (facility diagnosis-related group payments, outlier payments, physician services) payments and clinical outcomes (postimplant length of stay and adverse events) were compared across payment quartiles.
Results: The study sample included 4442 hospitalized patients, with mean (SD) age of 63.0 (10.8) years, 18.7% female, 27.2% nonwhite, and 6.1% Hispanic ethnicity. Among 4442 hospitalizations, the mean (SD) price-standardized Medicare payment was $176 825 ($60 286) and ranged from $122 953 to $271 472 across 106 centers. The difference in price-standardized payments between lowest and highest spending quartiles was $55 446 ($152 714 vs $208 160; 36%; P < .001), with outlier payments making up most of the difference ($42 742; 77%), followed by DRG ($6929; 13%) and physician services ($5774; 10%). After risk standardization, there was a modest decline in the difference in payments between quartiles ($53 221; 35%), with outlier payments accounting for a larger proportion of the difference (84%). After adjusting for patient characteristics, higher price-standardized payment quartiles were associated with longer postimplant length of stay but were not associated with any adverse events.
Conclusions and relevance: Medicare payments for durable LVAD implant hospitalizations vary widely across centers; this was not well explained by prices or case mix. While associated with longer postimplant length of stay, increased spending was not associated with adverse events. As the supply and demand for durable LVAD therapy continues to rise, identifying opportunities to reduce variation in spending from both explained and unexplained sources will ensure high-value use.