Inadequate Risk Adjustment Impacts Geriatricians' Performance on Medicare Cost and Quality Measures

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OBJECTIVES: Medicare value-based payment programs evaluate physicians' performance on their patients' annual Medicare costs and clinical outcomes. However, little is known about how geriatricians, who disproportionately provide care for medically complex older adults, perform on these measures. DESIGN: A retrospective study using multivariable regression methods to estimate the association of geriatric risk factors with annualized Medicare costs and preventable hospitalization rates and to compare geriatricians' performance on these outcomes to other primary care physicians (PCPs) under standard Medicare risk adjustment and after adding additional adjustment for geriatric risk factors. SETTING: Eight years (2006-2013) of cohort data from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. PARTICIPANTS: Medicare beneficiaries, aged 65 years and older, with primary care services contributing 27 027 person-years of data. MEASUREMENTS: Outcomes were costs and preventable hospitalization rates; geriatric risk factors were patient frailty, long-term institutionalization, dementia, and depression. RESULTS: Geriatricians were more likely to care for patients with frailty (22.8% vs 14.1%), long-term institutionalization (12.0% vs 4.7%), dementia (21.6% vs 10.2%), and depression (23.6% vs 17.4%) than other PCPs (P <.001 for each). Under standard Medicare risk adjustment, geriatricians performed more poorly on costs compared to other PCPs (observed-expected [O-E] ratio = 1.24 vs 0.99) and preventable hospitalizations (O-E ratio = 1.16 vs 0.98). Adding frailty, institutionalization, dementia, and depression to risk adjustment improved geriatricians' performance on costs by 25% and on preventable hospitalization rates by 35%, relative to other PCPs. Concurrent-year risk prediction that removed the influence of unpredictable acute events further improved geriatricians' performance vs other PCPs (O-E ratio = 0.99 vs 1.00). CONCLUSION: Medicare should consider risk adjusting for frailty, long-term institutionalization, dementia, and depression to avoid inappropriately penalizing geriatricians who care for vulnerable older adults. J Am Geriatr Soc 68:297–304, 2020.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-304
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Medicare
  • dementia
  • depression
  • frailty
  • risk adjustment


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