Objective: To examine Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Medicare hospitalizations for elderly veterans with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), their use of cardiac procedures in both systems, and patient mortality.
Data sources: Merging of inpatient discharge abstracts obtained from VA Patient Treatment Files (PTF) and Medicare MedPAR Part A files.
Study design: A retrospective cohort study of male veterans 65 years or older who were prior users of the VA medical system (veteran-users) and who were initially admitted to a VA or Medicare hospital with a primary diagnosis of AMI at some time from January 1, 1988 through December 31, 1990 (N = 25,312). We examined the use of cardiac catheterization, coronary bypass surgery, and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty in the 90 days after initial admission for AMI in both VA and Medicare systems, and survival at 30 days, 90 days, and one year. Other key measures included patient age, race, marital status, comorbidities, cardiac complications, prior utilization, and the availability of cardiac technology at the admitting hospital.
Principal findings: More than half of veteran-users (54 percent) were initially hospitalized in a Medicare hospital when they suffered an AMI. These Medicare index patients were more likely to receive cardiac catheterization (OR 1.24, 95% C.I. 1.17-1.32), coronary bypass surgery (OR 2.01, 95% C.I. 1.83-2.20), and percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (OR 2.56, 95% C.I. 2.30-2.85) than VA index patients. Small proportions of patients crossed over between systems of care for catheterization procedures (VA to Medicare = 3.3%, and Medicare to VA = 5.1%). Many VA index patients crossed over to Medicare hospitals to obtain bypass surgery (27.6 percent) or coronary angioplasty (12.1 percent). Mortality was not significantly different between veteran-users who were initially admitted to VA versus Medicare hospitals.
Conclusions: Dual-system utilization highlights the need to look at both systems of care when evaluating access, costs, and quality either in VA or in Medicare systems. Policy changes that affect access to and utilization of one system may lead to unpredictable results in the other.