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Home / News & IndustryManaged Care Insight and Analysis
Updated: May 5, 2009
Coordinated Care Programs For Medicare Beneficiaries Do Not Show Benefit

Only two of 15 Medicare programs designed to improve care and costs for patients with chronic illnesses resulted in reduced hospital admissions, and none of the programs generated net savings, according to a study by researchers from the Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

Chronic illnesses pose a significant expense to the Medicare program. The high expenditures generated by these beneficiaries are driven primarily by hospital admissions and readmissions, according to background information in the article.

Several factors appear to contribute to the high rate of hospitalizations, including:

  • patients receiving inadequate counseling on diet, medication and self-care;
  • not having ready access to medical help other than the emergency department; and
  • poor communication between patients and physicians

Some studies have suggested that interventions to address the barriers faced by chronically ill patients could reduce avoidable hospitalizations and decrease Medicare expenditures.

To study whether care coordination improves the quality of care and reduces Medicare expenditures, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2002 competitively awarded 15 demonstration programs to various healthcare programs.

Deborah Peikes, and colleagues from Mathematica in Princeton, N.J., analyzed the results from randomized controlled trials of these 15 programs on how they affected Medicare expenditures and quality of care. The programs included eligible fee-for-service Medicare patients (primarily with congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and diabetes) who volunteered to participate between April 2002 and June 2005 and were randomly assigned to treatment or control (usual care).

Hospitalizations, Medicare expenditures and some quality-of-care outcomes were measured with claims data for 18,309 patients from patients’ enrollment through June 2006. A patient survey 7-12 months after enrollment provided additional quality-of-care measures. Nurses provided patient education and monitoring (mostly via telephone) to improve the ability to communicate with physicians and adherence to medication, diet, exercise and self-care regimens. Patients were contacted twice per month on average; frequency varied widely.

The researchers found that 13 of the 15 programs showed no significant differences in hospitalizations. Mercy Medical Center, in northwestern Iowa, significantly reduced hospitalizations by 17 percent, and Charlestown retirement community in Maryland had an increase of 19 percent more hospitalizations.

None of the programs reduced regular Medicare expenditures.

Treatment group members in three programs (Health Quality Partners [HQP, in Doylestown, Pa.], Georgetown, [a medical center in Washington, D.C.] and Mercy) had monthly Medicare expenditures less than the control group by 9 percent to 14 percent.

Savings offset fees for HQP and Georgetown but not for Mercy; Georgetown was too small to be sustainable. For total Medicare expenditures including program fees, the treatment groups for nine programs had 8 percent to 41 percent higher total expenditures than the control groups did, all statistically significant.

For the survey-based outcomes-of-care measures, despite reporting much higher rates of being taught self-management skills, treatment group members were no more likely than control group members tosay they understood proper diet and exercise, or to state that they were adhering to prescribed or recommended diet, exercise and medications.

The authors add that a comparison of the two programs with the most positive results with the other programs indicates there were a number of noteworthy differences, including:

  • higher rates of in-person contact per month per patient;
  • treatment group members were significantly more likely than control group members to report being taught how to take their medications;
  • care coordinators for both HQP and Mercy worked closely with local hospitals, which provided the programs with timely information on patient hospitalizations and improved their potential to manage transitions and reduce short-term readmissions; and
  • care coordinators in both programs had frequent opportunities to interact informally with physicians.

"Despite these underwhelming results for care coordination interventions in general, the favorable findings for Mercy and HQP suggest that the potential exists for care coordination interventions to be cost-neutral and to improve patients’ well-being," the researchers wrote.

The study was published in JAMA.

Address: Mathematica Policy Research Inc., P.O. Box 2392, Princeton, NJ 08543; (609) 799-0005,

  This article was taken from:
Pay-For-Performance Reporter

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