Adjusting for social risk factors such as poverty, disability and housing instability in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program could level the playing field for hospitals that serve the most vulnerable patients, according to a study published Friday in Health Services Research. The authors examined claims data for Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries with heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia between December 2012 and November 2015 and found higher readmission rates for individuals with social risk factors. “Adding social risk factors to risk adjustment cut these differences in half,” they said. “Over half of the safety-net hospitals saw their penalty decline; 4-7.5 percent went from having a penalty to having no penalty. These changes translated into a $17 million reduction in penalties to safety-net hospitals.”

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