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Medicare HMOs fail to control costs of colon surgery in elderly patients

Tampa, FL (Dec. 20, 2004) -- The costs of caring for elderly Florida patients hospitalized for colon surgery are not reduced by Medicare HMOs, report University of South Florida researchers in the December issue of the Archives of Surgery.

Despite significantly shorter hospital stays, Medicare HMO beneficiaries who underwent colon resections -- surgery to remove a diseased section of the large intestines -- incurred the same overall hospital charges as patients covered by traditional fee-for-service Medicare. Consequently, the study found, daily hospital charges for the Medicare HMO group were higher than for the traditional Medicare group. The researchers assumed a direct relationship between hospital charges, available from the Agency for Health Care Administration's Florida database, and actual costs, which are difficult to obtain from hospital executives.

"The Medicare HMO model failed as a cost-saving measure in this particular instance," said the study's principal investigator Michel Murr, MD, an associate professor of surgery in the USF College of Medicine. "Our finding appears to be confirmed by the recent departure of major HMOs from the Medicare market in Florida."

Dr. Murr and his research team, headed by Dr. Jimmy Sung, examined the outcomes of all colon resections for patients age 70 and older in Florida from 1995 to 1999. Colon resection, usually performed to remove cancer, treat diverticulitis or remove a bowel blockage, is the most common abdominal surgery in elderly patients.

Regardless of the type of Medicare coverage, the researchers noted a 10 to 30 percent increase in hospital charges for colon resections in the four-year study period. Even with an older, frailer patient population and overall decline in length of hospital stay, deaths and complications from this procedure remained low.

The intention of Medicare HMOs is to reduce waste in the system by trying to eliminate unnecessary and inappr
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Contact: Anne DeLotto Baier
abaier@hsc.usf.edu
813-974-3300
University of South Florida Health
20-Dec-2004


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