So Far, Bundled Payments Not Affecting Patient Selection for Joint Replacement

Many people predicted that the mandatory “bundling” of payments for knee and hip arthroplasty by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that began on April 1, 2016 in several US metropolitan areas would lead to  “cherry-picking” and ”lemon-dropping.” In other words, hospitals and surgeons wouldn’t take on more complex and sicker patients for joint replacement for fear that the bundled payment would be insufficient (lemon-dropping), and would instead select the healthier patients (cherry-picking). See related OrthoBuzz post.

In the February 19, 2020 issue of The Journal, Humbyrd et al. compare the characteristics of patients who underwent hip and knee replacement (HKR) from April to December 2015 with those of HKR patients during the same period in 2016, after CMS mandated the bundled-payment program in 67 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). The patients were matched so that those treated in bundled and non-bundled settings had similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

The matched groups included 12,388 HKR episodes in 40 bundled MSAs and 20,288 HKRs in 115 nonbundled MSAs. The authors also evaluated pre- and post-policy case-mix changes among 1,549 hip hemiarthroplasties, which are not subject to bundling, in the bundled MSAs.

Among patients who underwent HKR, Humbyrd et al. found no significant differences in patient characteristics—including race, dual Medicare-Medicaid eligibility, tobacco use, obesity, diabetes, and Charlson Comorbidity Index (CCI)—after the bundled-payment policy was implemented. Also, they found that patients in bundled MSAs undergoing hemiarthroplasty had significantly higher CCI values and were more likely to have diabetes than those who underwent HKR. This suggests that some surgeons opt for hemiarthroplasty over total hip replacement in less-healthy patients to avoid treating such patients under a bundled program.

From the MSA perspective, these results suggest that cherry picking and lemon dropping are not occurring in the short term. But we would do well as a profession to ensure that those controversial patient-selection practices are not happening at the individual surgeon level, and that the short-term results demonstrated here by Humbyrd et al. persist over the longer term. Even our sickest joint replacement patients deserve the best surgical care.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

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