Effective immediately, Medicare will start fining hospitals that have too many patients readmitted within 30 days of discharge due to complications.

The penalties are part of a broader push under President Barack Obama's health care law to improve quality while also trying to save taxpayers money.

But will this end up costing both the taxpayer and consumer more money? And, will it backfire and result in poorer care?

Supposed a diabetes patient is discharged from the hospital and doesn't take care of himself. Suppose that patient doesn't take his medications properly and totally ignores his diet.

Should the hospital be fined?

There are a lot of patients who don't follow the advise given to them when they're discharged.

Fines levied against hospitals will be passed onto the consumer. The result could be higher treatment costs for everyone.

Let's look at the care issue. If a person comes to the hospital for treatment, is discharged, and then returns for needed treatment, will the hospital admit the patient in a timely fashion knowing it could be fined?

Theoretically, it shouldn't matter if that patient needs care even though he was negligent in his own post-discharge care. The bottom line for many medical facilities is profit. If fines cut into the profit, there could be a reluctance to readmit patients who need hospital care, resulting in potentially more unecessary pain and suffering - or even death.

An Associated Press story said hospitals are working on ways to improve communication with rehabilitation centers and doctors who follow patients after they're released, as well as connecting individually with patients.

This still won't help the situation of patients who don't follow instructions; who eat too much salt if they're on a renal diet, who don't take care of their wounds from surgery, who don't take medications properly, and who otherwise merely ignore instructions.

We understand that hospitals should be held accountable for their treatment.

So should some patients.

You can't regulate stupidity and in the case of some patients, that's what this legislation is trying to do.

One last thought. Don't forget the insurance company rules that mandate discharges for certain illnesses within a specific time period. That sure doesn't help the hospitals when it comes to this ridiculous government mandate.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com