How Obamacare helped make hospitals less lethal

December 3, 2014

As far as phobias go, nosocomephobia—the fear of hospitals—seems pretty reasonable. Hospitals are the last places many people see loved ones before death, not the poking and prodding that comes with one’s own visits, so it’s easy to see the source of the anxiety. Fortunately, the hospital experience is improving.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that roughly  50,000 people are alive today thanks to a 17 percent decline in hospital errors between 2010 and 2013, a total that amounted to $12 billion in health spending avoided. That’s a lot of tongue depressors.

As this Reuters graphic shows, Hospital-Acquired Conditions fell sharply from 2011 to 2013 (2010 was used as a baseline for the data), while deaths averted increased by nearly an order of magnitude over that period. Much to the chagrin of its opponents, part of the decline is credited to the Affordable Care Act, as Reuters reported yesterday:

Hospitals have made a concerted effort to improve safety, spurred in large part by changes in how Medicare pays them. President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law requires [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to reduce the reimbursement rate for hospitals that re-admit too many patients within 30 days, an indication of poor care the first time.

It’s off-putting to think that this is what it takes to prevent avoidable deaths—not to mention all of those that occurred before the law went into effect. Such is the price of progress, I suppose. Data Dive is still looking for the word that describes the irrational fear of a successful government initiative.


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