NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 23, 2007


Hospital death rates are among the best-kept secrets in American medicine.  But that will soon change as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) plans to post the first broad comparison of the death rates for heart attack and heart failure on its website, says USA Today.

The federal initiative marks a bold departure for an agency that has long been the repository of private information on Medicare patients.  A USA Today exclusive look at some of the statistics reveals:

  • Just 17 of 4,477 hospitals had heart attack death rates that were better than the national rate.
  • Only 38 of 4,804 hospitals had heart failure death rates that were better than the national rate.
  • There were 42 hospitals where patients are more likely to die from heart attacks and heart failure than patients who go elsewhere, including at least one whose 24 percent heart attack death rate topped the national rate by nearly 10 percentage points.

Consumer advocates agree the move is a valuable first step, but they say people are being shortchanged by the agency's cautious approach.  CMS has chosen to highlight a small percentage of hospitals with the best and worst performance compared with the national death rate -- which withholds specific death rates and leaves 98 percent of hospitals in the USA statistically indistinguishable from one another.

But CMS says its process was necessary to avoid potential backlash from hospitals fearful that a mediocre report card will drive patients away, and to alleviate fear among doctors and hospital administrators who fear that the analysis doesn't give enough weight to how sick, poor, rural or urban their patients are.

Source: Steve Sternberg and Anthony DeBarros, "Does where you live determine if you'll live?" USA Today, May 23, 2007.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues