Hospitals And Surgery Centers Play Tug-Of-War Over America's Ailing Knees

Kaiser Health News, December 21, 2016

Medicare is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee replacement surgeries outside the hospital, either in free-standing surgery centers or outpatient facilities.

Medicare is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee replacement surgeries outside the hospital, either in free-standing surgery centers or outpatient facilities.

This article first appeared December 21, 2016 on Kaiser Health News.

By Christina Jewett

Five years ago, Dr. Ira Kirschenbaum, an orthopedic surgeon in the Bronx who replaces more than 200 knees each year, would have considered it crazy to send a patient home the same day as a knee replacement operation.

And yet there he was this year, as the patient, home after a few hours. A physician friend pierced his skin at 8 a.m. at a Seattle-area surgery center. By lunch, Kirschenbaum was resting at his friend's home, with no pain and a new knee.

"I'm amazed at how well I'm doing," Kirschenbaum, 59, said recently in a phone interview, nine weeks after the operation.

What felt to Kirschenbaum like a bold experiment may soon become far more standard. Medicare, which spends several billions of dollars a year on knee replacements for its beneficiaries — generally Americans 65 and over — is contemplating whether it will help pay for knee replacement surgeries outside the hospital, either in free-standing surgery centers or outpatient facilities.

The issue is sowing deep discord in the medical world, and the debate is as much about money as medicine. Some physicians are concerned that moving the surgeries out of hospitals will land vulnerable patients in the emergency room with uncontrolled pain, blood clots or other complications.

But proponents of the change say it can give patients more choice and potentially better care, as well as save Medicare hundreds of millions of dollars. Already, an "overwhelming majority" of commenters said they want to allow the surgeries out of hospitals, according to recent rule-making documents.

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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