Health Equity Adjustment and Hospital Performance in the Medicare Value-Based Purchasing Program

Michael Liu, Sahil Sandhu, Karen E. Joynt Maddox, Rishi K. Wadhera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Importance: Medicare's Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (HVBP) program will provide a health equity adjustment (HEA) to hospitals that have greater proportions of patients dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid and that offer high-quality care beginning in fiscal year 2026. However, which hospitals will benefit most from this policy change and to what extent are unknown. Objective: To estimate potential changes in hospital performance after HEA and examine hospital patient mix, structural, and geographic characteristics associated with receipt of increased payments. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study analyzed all 2676 hospitals participating in the HVBP program in fiscal year 2021. Publicly available data on program performance and hospital characteristics were linked to Medicare claims data on all inpatient stays for dual-eligible beneficiaries at each hospital to calculate HEA points and HVBP payment adjustments. Exposures: Hospital Value-Based Purchasing program HEA. Main Outcomes and Measures: Reclassification of HVBP bonus or penalty status and changes in payment adjustments across hospital characteristics. Results: Of 2676 hospitals participating in the HVBP program in fiscal year 2021, 1470 (54.9%) received bonuses and 1206 (45.1%) received penalties. After HEA, 102 hospitals (6.9%) were reclassified from bonus to penalty status, whereas 119 (9.9%) were reclassified from penalty to bonus status. At the hospital level, mean (SD) HVBP payment adjustments decreased by $4534 ($90033) after HEA, ranging from a maximum reduction of $1014276 to a maximum increase of $1523765. At the aggregate level, net-positive changes in payment adjustments were largest among safety net hospitals ($28971708) and those caring for a higher proportion of Black patients ($15468445). The likelihood of experiencing increases in payment adjustments was significantly higher among safety net compared with non-safety net hospitals (574 of 683 [84.0%] vs 709 of 1993 [35.6%]; adjusted rate ratio [ARR], 2.04 [95% CI, 1.89-2.20]) and high-proportion Black hospitals compared with non-high-proportion Black hospitals (396 of 523 [75.7%] vs 887 of 2153 [41.2%]; ARR, 1.40 [95% CI, 1.29-1.51]). Rural hospitals (374 of 612 [61.1%] vs 909 of 2064 [44.0%]; ARR, 1.44 [95% CI, 1.30-1.58]), as well as those located in the South (598 of 1040 [57.5%] vs 192 of 439 [43.7%]; ARR, 1.25 [95% CI, 1.10-1.42]) and in Medicaid expansion states (801 of 1651 [48.5%] vs 482 of 1025 [47.0%]; ARR, 1.16 [95% CI, 1.06-1.28]), were also more likely to experience increased payment adjustments after HEA compared with their urban, Northeastern, and Medicaid nonexpansion state counterparts, respectively. Conclusions and Relevance: Medicare's implementation of HEA in the HVBP program will significantly reclassify hospital performance and redistribute program payments, with safety net and high-proportion Black hospitals benefiting most from this policy change. These findings suggest that HEA is an important strategy to ensure that value-based payment programs are more equitable..

Original languageEnglish
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


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