In response to Medicare’s penalty program, UCLA Health has focused on decreasing the use of catheters at its hospitals, including at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Medical mistakes caused several prominent hospitals to be among the 758 hospitals fined by the federal government.  More than half of the hospitals fined were also fined last year, according to Medicare records. According to federal data, some well-known hospitals made the list for the first time, including Stanford Health Care in Northern California, Denver Health Medical Center and two satellite hospitals run by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Medicare will lower payments to the penalized hospitals by 1% over the current federal fiscal year, which runs through September 2016. Estimated penalties will cost the fined hospitals $364 million, based on the government’s assessment of the frequency of several kinds of infections, sepsis, hip fractures and other complications.

The penalties, created by the Affordable Care Act, are the toughest sanctions Medicare has taken on hospital safety. Some patient safety advocates worry the fines are not large enough to prevent medical mistakes and that they only address a small portion of the types of medical mistakes that take place. More types of conditions will be added in future years.

Hospitals argue penalties are counterproductive and unfair. Providers are also bothered that Medicare is required to punish a quarter of hospitals each year. In practice, only about 1 in 6 hospitals is being penalized because Congress exempted veterans hospitals, children’s hospitals and critical access hospitals, which are generally the sole providers in their area. Without any penalty for higher rates of medical mistakes, VA hospitals and pediatric hospitals have less incentive to prevent injuries from medical mistakes.

Reducing Medical Mistakes

In releasing the numbers, Medicare said average hospital performance improved for two of the three measures that the government relied on for the penalties both last year and this year.

A total of 407 hospitals were penalized both years of the program. A full list of all penalized hospitals can be viewed here.