Houston heart transplant hospital could lose Medicaid funds

HOUSTON — A Houston hospital that suspended its renowned heart transplant program for two weeks amid scrutiny following the deaths of two patients could lose federal Medicaid funding.

Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center was notified Friday that Medicare plans to halt funding to its heart transplant program on Aug. 17, the Houston Chronicle reports .

Federal officials, raising concerns about two deaths in May, said the hospital has not done enough to fix shortcomings that endanger patients.

St. Luke's temporary suspension of its heart transplant program came after joint reports by the Chronicle and ProPublica.

The hospital reopened the program on June 15 after finding no "systemic issues related to the quality of the program." It said it was reorganizing its transplant surgery team, refining the criteria for which patients it would accept for heart transplants and making other improvements to strengthen the program.

The funding withdrawal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would threaten the hospital's viability, experts contend, depriving it of an essential source of funding. The termination could trigger private insurance companies to follow suit.

St. Luke's, in a statement, said it looks forward to discussing CMS' concerns with agency officials. The hospital said it believes it is eligible to take further corrective steps, including a systems improvement agreement, "which would provide a long-term path forward for our program."

"Our unwavering focus is always to ensure our patients receive the best possible medical care, and in ways that reflect our core values of reverence, integrity, compassion, and excellence," the hospital said.

Systems improvement agreements, when they occur, are usually first offered by CMS, not requested by a hospital. No such agreement was offered in the CMS letter.

St. Luke's can appeal the termination, but that won't freeze the process, according to Medicare rules.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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