Social Risk Adjustment In The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program: A Systematic Review And Implications For Policy

Health Aff (Millwood). 2022 Sep;41(9):1307-1315. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2022.00614.


Value-based payment programs adjust payments to providers based on spending, quality, or health outcomes. Concern that these programs penalize providers disproportionately serving vulnerable patients prompted calls to adjust performance measures for social risk factors. We reviewed fourteen studies of social risk adjustment in Medicare's Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), a value-based payment model that initially did not adjust for social risk factors but subsequently began to do so. Seven studies found that adding social risk factors to the program's base risk-adjustment model (which adjusts only for age, sex, and comorbidities) reduced differences in risk-adjusted readmissions and penalties between safety-net hospitals and other hospitals. Three studies found that peer grouping, the HRRP's current approach to social risk adjustment, reduced penalties among safety-net hospitals. Two studies found that differences in risk-adjusted readmissions and penalties were further narrowed when augmentation of the base model was combined with peer grouping. Two studies showed that it is possible to adjust for social risk factors without obscuring quality differences between hospitals. These findings support the use of social risk adjustment to improve provider payment equity and highlight opportunities to enhance social risk adjustment in value-based payment programs.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Patient Readmission*
  • Policy
  • Risk Adjustment*
  • Safety-net Providers
  • United States