Medicare costs could dip if atrial fibrillation treatment improves, study finds

More than half of patients with the cardiovascular condition are rehospitalized, and Medicare spends more than $15 billion a year on the disease.

By Chris Silva — Posted Oct. 7, 2010

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Medicare costs could be reduced if federal policymakers attempted to lower high rehospitalization rates associated with atrial fibrillation by better focusing on quality improvement efforts, a September report from Avalere Health concluded.

Research published in 2008 in the Journal of Medical Economics shows that the Medicare program spends more than $15.7 billion annually on treatments for the chronic cardiovascular disease.

Avalere, an advisory services company based in Washington, D.C., concluded in its report that the spending breaks down to about $24,000 per patient. After reviewing the medical records of 14,174 beneficiaries, researchers determined during a 15-month follow-up period that more than half the patients (52%) faced rehospitalization for the condition and 61% had to visit an emergency department. The study did not put an exact number on the savings, but Avalere's report concluded that the average cost could dip if rehospitalization rates and emergency department visits are reduced.

"Identifying ways to reduce readmissions and improve care management may present real opportunities for providers and payers to reduce these overall medical costs," said Erin Sullivan, PhD, Avalere's vice president of health economics and outcomes research.

The findings highlight the economic burden of treating patients with atrial fibrillation on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the overall health care system, the researchers said. As the Medicare population grows and the prevalence of the disease increases, Sullivan said it's critical that CMS target quality improvement efforts to help cut down on readmissions.

About 2.5 million adults have atrial fibrillation, with 80% of those patients age 65 and older. Previous research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that the prevalence of the disease is expected to more than double in the next 40 years to 5.6 million adults.

Sullivan and her team concluded that the condition will have a dramatic upward effect on overall Medicare spending in coming years, although they did not put an exact figure on the spending.

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