Medical errors bills could save dollars

    Hospitals and nursing homes will foot the bill for preventable mistakes.

    Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has passed a bill that would forced hospitals and nursing homes to pay up when care providers make avoidable medical mistakes.



    When someone dies because a doctor prescribes the wrong medication, or a surgeon operates on the wrong patient, the federal government considers those mistakes preventable errors. They’re so serious, they’re sometimes called “never events.” Governor Rendell says he’ll sign the medical errors bill. Ann Torregrossa leads his Office of Health Care Reform.

    Torregrossa: Unfortunately there may have been a perverse incentive where if someone made a mistake, they may get some payment for it. But now they are not going to get payment for it, and so they are going to be, hopefully, more careful.

    Supporters say the change will drive down health care costs. The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council tracked nine kinds of medical errors in 2008 and says the Commonwealth paid more than $330 million in one year for hospitalizations related to those mistakes.

    The state’s Medicaid program — called Medical Assistance— already refuses to pay for so-called avoidable ‘never events’ like when a surgeon leaves an instrument inside a patient.

    Torregrossa: What this bill does is extend that to every other payer. So it applies to all insurers and goes much, much farther than just Medical Assistance. I think it’s a very important step in making sure that we are paying for value and not paying for problems.

    Other states have medical error laws, but Pennsylvania would be the first to extend those rules to nursing homes.

    State Representative Tony DeLuca from Allegheny County crafted the legislation.

    DeLuca: Our main purpose is to protect the public, it’s not there to protect hospitals or nursing homes. It’s to protect the public. It’s like in private industry if you do the job wrong you don’t get paid for it.

    DeLuca says the change is one part of the health reform puzzle.

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