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Home Care

PHILADELPHA— Spending on post-acute care continues to rise in the United States. Today, nearly 90 percent of Medicare patients discharged to post-acute care receive that care in either a skilled nursing facility or home health care. However, little is known about the differences in outcomes and costs between these two settings. Now, a new study shows that Medicare patients discharged from the hospital and into home health care have higher rates of hospital readmissions compared to those discharged to a skilled nursing facility. The results, published today by Penn Medicine researchers in JAMA Internal Medicine, also shows that providers received significantly lower Medicare payments for these patients.

“With the increasing costs of post-acute care and changing payment models that hold providers more accountable for costs across clinical settings, it’s important to assess and understand the impacts of these choices,” said first author Rachel Werner, MD, PhD, a professor of Medicine and director of Health Policy and Outcomes Research in the department of Medicine at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. “We found clear tradeoffs: While home health care may cost less, it doesn’t have the same intensity of care as a skilled nursing facility, which may be sending many of them back into the hospital.”

The findings have important implications for today’s health care system, which continues to work towards refining payment incentives that optimize provider response and reduced spending. In 2015, Medicare spent more than $60 billion on post-acute care, a figure that has continued to rapidly increase.

Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare implemented payment reforms designed to reduce the rates of readmission, pushing hospitals to favor skilled nursing facilities, which have been shown to reduce those rates. However, at the same time, alternative payment models, such as accountable care organizations (ACO) and bundled payments, that may push patients toward lower-cost options like home care, have come into play. ACOs can be a network of providers who collaborate to deliver more cost-effective treatments across the spectrum of care for Medicare and other patients in an effort to lower overall health care costs. Studies have shown that these two approaches are associated with lower rates of institutional post-acute care, such as skilled nursing facilities.

Researchers examined the differences in rates of 30-day readmissions, 30-day mortality, functional outcomes, and Medicare payments for over 17 million discharges of eligible Medicare beneficiaries to home health care versus skilled nursing facilities between 2010 and 2016. They found that patients receiving home health care were 5.6 percentage points more likely to end up back in the hospital within 30 days of discharge than patients receiving post-acute care from a skilled nursing facility.

Differences in Medicare payments were also significant. The average payment for patients discharged to home health was $5,384 less than for patients discharged to skilled nursing facilities, the researchers reported. Also, total Medicare payments after 60 days for patients discharged to home care was $4,514 less for patients discharged to skilled nursing facilities. There was no difference in mortality or functional outcomes among the two groups.

The researcher said the results warrant further investigation among Medicare patients and others, given the high use and cost of post-acute care in the United States that’s only expected to grow.

Co-authors include Norma B. Coe, PhD, Mingyu Qi, MS, and R. Tamara Konetzka, PhD.

Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, excellence in patient care, and community service. The organization consists of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Penn’s Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school.

The Perelman School of Medicine is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $550 million awarded in the 2022 fiscal year. Home to a proud history of “firsts” in medicine, Penn Medicine teams have pioneered discoveries and innovations that have shaped modern medicine, including recent breakthroughs such as CAR T cell therapy for cancer and the mRNA technology used in COVID-19 vaccines.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities stretch from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania to the New Jersey shore. These include the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and Pennsylvania Hospital—the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is an $11.1 billion enterprise powered by more than 49,000 talented faculty and staff.

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