Did Postoperative Mortality Increase After the Implementation of the Medicare Balanced Budget Act?

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The Balanced Budget Act (BBA) of 1997 was a cost-saving measure designed to reduce Medicare reimbursements by $116.4 billion from 1998 to 2002. Resulting financial strain could adversely affect the quality of patient care in hospitals.


We sought to determine whether 30-day mortality rates for surgical patients who developed complications changed at different rates in hospitals under different levels of financial strain from the BBA.


Pennsylvania hospital discharge data, financial data, and death certificate data from 1997 to 2001 were obtained. A retrospective multivariate analysis examined whether 30-day mortality rates from 8 postoperative complications varied based on degree of hospital financial strain.


The average magnitude of Medicare payment reduction on overall hospital net revenues was estimated at 1.8% for hospitals with low BBA impact and 3.5% for hospitals with high impact in 1998, worsening to 2.0% and 4.8%, respectively, by 2001. Mortality rates changed at similar rates for high- and low-impact hospitals from 1997 to 1999, but from 1997 to 2000 mortality rates increased more among patients in high-impact compared with low-impact hospitals (P < 0.05). From 2000 to 2001, mortality rates among impact groups converged. There were no statistically significant differences based on BBA impact in changes in nursing staff or length of stay.


The mortality of surgical patients who developed postoperative complications increased to a greater degree in the short term in hospitals affected more by BBA. Measuring the quality impact of reimbursement cuts is necessary to understand cost-quality tradeoffs that may accompany cost-saving reforms.

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