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Patients No Longer Charged for Medical Errors in Some States: Shifting Medicare Policy Forces Reevaluation of Hospital Bills

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Charging patients for the extra care they receive due to
egregious medical errors has come under fire in recent months, as more and more
hospitals implement voluntary policies of not billing for the worst kinds of
errors, including operating on the wrong body part, and leaving foreign objects
inside surgery patients.

Such errors have been dubbed “never events” by the health
care community, because they should never happen at all.

Hospitals have adopted these billing changes partly in
response to shifting Medicare policy.
Last year, Medicare announced that beginning October 1, 2008, it will no
longer reimburse hospitals for a list of “never events” that has been steadily
lengthening since its announcement. This
list now includes giving patients the wrong blood type, surgical site
infections, bed sores, and in-hospital falls.

Many of the nation’s largest insurance providers, including
Aetna, Cigna, and Blue Cross Blue Shield, have also refused to pay for serious,
preventable medical errors in recent months.
The shift in payment structures has forced many individual states to
reevaluate how the costs of serious medical errors should be dealt with. Last September, Minnesota became the first
state to announce that its hospitals would no longer charge patients or
providers for preventable medical errors.
Since then, at least five states have agreed to waive fees for the list
of 28 “never events” compiled by the National Quality Forum, a patient safety
and advocacy agency. Other states have
opted to compile their own lists of preventable errors for which they will waive
patient fees.

Still, many states are choosing to continue charging
patients for serious medical errors. The
Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that preventable medical
errors are still costing American employers nearly $1.5 billion a year. Click here to see which states still charge.