News Briefs

President signs patient safety bill

On July 29, President Bush signed into law The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005, which will create legal and confidentiality protections for patient safety information that providers share for educational purposes, and create patient safety organizations to promote information sharing. The House Energy and Commerce Committee had unanimously passed the legislation, designed to enhance patient safety by encouraging voluntary reporting of health care errors.

Similar to bills that passed the House and Senate last session but failed to make it to conference committee, the latest bill contained language agreed to in a bicameral, bipartisan manner, avoiding the need for a conference.

CMS gives Congress a quality roadmap

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has presented congressional committees with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid with a roadmap for improving the nation’s health care quality. The agency’s five-point plan calls for close partnerships with federal agencies and private-sector groups; widespread use of quality measures such as those of the Hospital Quality Alliance; payment reforms to tie Medicare and Medicaid payment to quality; steps to promote adoption of health information technology; and efforts to speed access to new and better treatments and evidence.

CMS said the goal of its roadmap is "to ensure the right care for every person every time and to do this by making care safe, efficient, patient-centered, timely, and equitable."

Hospital charges reported

Charges for U.S. hospitals stays totaled nearly $754 billion in 2003, according to just-released national data from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The charges, which do not include physician fees, were for approximately 38 million patient stays and cover the amounts that hospitals billed to insurers and consumers.

The five most expensive conditions to treat were:

  • blocked arteries and other heart conditions that can lead to a heart attack — $44 billion (1.2 million patients);
  • heart attack — $31 billion (750,000 patients);
  • congestive heart failure — $26 billion (1.1 million patients);
  • pneumonia — $26 billion (1.3 million patients);
  • newborns — $25 billion (4 million patients).

The information was produced using HCUPnet, an on-line query system that provides access to health statistics and information on hospital stays from AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). This project comprises a family of health care databases and related software tools developed through a federal-state-industry partnership and sponsored by AHRQ.

HCUP includes the largest set of publicly available databases on all patients in the United States, regardless of type of insurance or whether the patients had insurance. To access HCUPnet, go to http://hcup.ahrq.gov/HCUPnet.asp.