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The Leapfrog Group's Missy Danforth on ‘alarming’ disparities in care based on coverage

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Patients with Medicare and Medicaid were far more likely to have complications than those with private insurance.

When The Leapfrog Group examined hospital complications to see where disparities existed, there were a number of disturbing findings.

Black and Hispanic patients were more likely to develop sepsis and respiratory failure after surgeries, according to the study released last week. Missy Danforth, the vice president of health care ratings at The Leapfrog Group and a co-author of the report, said the findings were “sobering.”

But she said she was most surprised to see substantial differences in outcomes among payers. Patients who relied on Medicare and Medicaid were most likely to suffer serious complications than those with private insurance. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid patients had a greater likelihood of complications in 10 of 11 areas studied.

“I think one thing that probably jumped out at us that hasn't gotten quite as much attention, actually, were the payer disparities,” Danforth told Chief Healthcare Executive® in an interview. (The story continues below.)

“I think what was a little bit interesting and different about this particular paper, what we're seeing is that, in some cases, the disparities in terms of your risk of harm are even more pronounced based on who you have for health insurance,” she said.

“And so I think it speaks to this sort of complex problem. And the layers to this particular problem, and we look at some of the increased rates of harm to, for example, Medicare, Medicaid patients, that was pretty alarming. And there's not been quite as much attention to that.”

Danforth says it’s difficult to draw conclusions on the significance in the disparities based on coverage, but she says it’s worthy of further study.

“We would, I think, like to see just a little bit more research in this particular area,” Danforth said. “You know, I think with this paper, we were really trying to elucidate some of the issues and hope to spur additional research around some of these topics. So I don't think we want to conjecture, but I do think we want to encourage others to really dig into this and see what else is there.”

Read more: Leapfrog Group’s spring hospital safety grades find ‘dramatic’ rise in infections

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