Guest Post: Cautious Early Optimism about Medicare’s Bundled Payment Programs

jointOrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Richard Yoon, MD.

In a recent issue of JAMA, Dummit et al. analyzed cost and quality results from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Bundled Payment for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative. The authors compared joint-replacement results between hospitals that voluntarily participate in the BPCI program versus matched comparison hospitals that do not participate. Nearly 60,000 lower extremity joint replacement procedures from each hospital type were included in the analysis.

Medicare payments declined over time in both groups of hospitals, but the authors noted a greater decline in costs among the BPCI hospitals, primarily due to reduced utilization of post-institutional acute care. There were no statistical differences in quality between the BPCI hospitals and comparison hospitals, as measured by unplanned admissions, emergency department visits, and mortality at both 30 and 90 days. These results echo those reported by other pilots in the United States and suggest that similar programs could reduce cost per episode of care without compromising quality.

However, even proponents of the new programs are cautious. For example, in his JAMA editorial, Elliot Fisher, MD warns readers that because BPCI is a voluntary program, the results may not reflect the true impact of a more widespread bundled-payment model.  The incentives, he argues, could end up contributing to volume increases or shifts toward healthier—and “more profitable”—patients. As Fisher concludes, “Bundled payments leave the overarching incentive to increase volume solidly in place.”

In a separate JAMA Viewpoint article, Ibrahim et al. warn that another CMS program, the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) model, could unintentionally amplify already existing racial disparities in elective joint replacement. CJR is a mandatory initiative in 67 randomly selected US metropolitan areas. The authors say that CJR might improve postoperative quality of care for minority patients after joint replacement, but that the program could also end up favoring healthier, well-insured patients.

Overall, at this early stage, these two CMS models offer promising, comprehensive approaches to joint replacement that may prove cost-saving without comprising quality of care. Results like the ones published by Dummit et al. are hopeful, but longer-term, outcomes-based, and cost-focused studies that include epidemiologic and racial impact must be performed as we move forward carefully.

Click here to read a previous OrthoBuzz post about BPCI.

Click here to read a previous OrthoBuzz post about CJR.

Richard Yoon, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic traumatology and complex adult reconstruction at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

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