News Briefs

Study: Growth slows in health care spending

The growth in health care spending declined by 1.5 percentage points in the first half of 2003 — the largest six-month drop since the early 1990s, according to a recent study by the Center for Studying Health System Change. The study found an 8.5% increase in health care spending growth per privately insured American during the first half of 2003, down from a 10% rise in the second half of 2002. Spending on hospital inpatient care grew 7.6% during the first half of 2003, down from an 8.3% increase in the last six months of 2002, the study said, while spending on outpatient care grew 12.9% in the first half of the year, down from 14.1% for the second half of 2002.

The study notes that hospital compensation costs for nurses and other workers have increased significantly over the past few years in response to work force shortages, creating cost pressures for hospitals.

OIG seeks proposals for safe-harbor provisions

Proposals for developing new or modifying existing safe-harbor provisions under the federal anti-kickback statute will be accepted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) through Feb. 10.

The statute penalizes individuals or entities that knowingly offer, solicit, or receive remuneration to induce or reward business reimbursable under federal health care programs. The provisions specify payment and business practices that would not serve as a basis for sanctions under the statute. To date, OIG has developed 22 final safe harbors or practices that are sheltered from liability.

The notice published by the OIG also solicits recommendations for new special fraud alerts, which provide guidance to health care providers regarding potentially fraudulent or abusive practices.

For more information, see the Federal Register notice at under "Inspector General Office, Health and Human Services Department."

AHA survey shows hospital use rising

More Americans turned to hospitals for care in 2002, according to findings from the American Hospital Association’s (AHA) latest Annual Survey of Hospitals. The survey of more than 5,700 hospitals shows admissions at community hospitals rose by 664,691 in 2002. Inpatient days climbed by roughly 2.5 million, while the average length of stay held steady at 5.7 days. Emergency visits jumped by 3.9 million, and total outpatient visits rose by more than 17 million. These statistics can be found in AHA’s Hospital Statistics 2004 Edition, for sale at or by calling (800) 242-2626.

CMS publishes quality survey tool

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has published a revised survey instrument and proposed administration instructions for the patient perceptions of care survey known as HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Plans). The survey, which will become part of the hospital-led Quality Initiative, is intended to allow for an accurate comparison of patient satisfaction across hospitals. As recommended by the American Hospital Association and others, the survey was shortened considerably — from 66 questions to 32, 24 of which will gauge patients’ perceptions of the hospital environment and care they received and eight will be used to determine demographics and patient mix. Hospitals will be permitted to incorporate the survey into their current patient satisfaction survey by adding up to 30 questions following the 24 core HCAHPS questions and to use their current survey vendor to administer the survey.