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Medicare Stops Paying for Medical Errors

On October 1, 2008, Medicare enacted a new policy concerning its payment of medical care costs caused by hospital errors.  Under this new policy, Medicare will not pay for medical care costs that occur as a result of 10 reasonably preventable events.  These events are often referred to as "never events" because they should never occur.  These never events include complications arising from when patients receive incompatible blood transfusions, second surgeries necessitated by foreign objects left behind in a patient from a prior surgery, second surgeries necessitated by certain infections, surgeries performed on wrong body parts, complications from serious bed sores and falls that occur in the hospital, and urinary tract infections caused by in-hospital use of catheters.  Most importantly from a patient perspective, Medicare's new policy also prevents hospitals from billing patients directly for costs generated by such errors.  

Prior studies have shown that the occurrence of "never events" has huge consequences both financially and for patient well-being.  For example, one study has found that the occurrence of never events account for 2.4 million extra hospital days, $9.3 billion in extra charges, and 32,600 deaths.

An interesting side issue to watch is what effect will Medicare's new policy have in the ability of patients to prove medical malpractice cases when these "never events" occur.