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Medicare stops paying for heart transplants at MUSC

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MUSC Children's Health and Safe Kids Charleston Area will put on a children's safety family day Saturday in North Charleston. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The federal Medicare program will no longer pay Medical University Hospital to perform heart transplants. 

The hospital's heart transplant program was identified as "low volume" by Medicare based on old data, said hospital spokeswoman Heather Woolwine, and the federal decision was made as part of the government's "larger strategy not to fund 'low volume' centers." Research shows transplant centers with higher volumes have better outcomes. 

The Medical University of South Carolina hospital, which is the only one in the state that performs heart transplants, is appealing the decision, Woolwine said. It does not affect pediatric patients awaiting transplant or adult patients covered by private insurance policies. 

The reason MUSC was deemed a low-volume center by Medicare, she said, dates back to a voluntary decision made by hospital officials three years ago to temporarily suspend the heart transplant program. They were concerned, at the time, about poor patient outcomes. At least one person who received a heart transplant at MUSC died. 

In 2014, hospital officials said surgeons there had performed nearly 500 heart transplants since the program's inception in the mid-1980s. More than 90 percent of patients who received a new heart at MUSC survived at least one year after the procedure.

After a months-long review, surgeons at MUSC resumed performing heart transplants in February 2015 and, since then, the program "has seen 100% graft and patient survival success," Woolwine said. "This loss of funding is not a reflection of the program’s quality."

The hospital has identified nine patients who will be affected by the decision.

A spokeswoman for the federal Medicare program did not immediately respond to questions for this article. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598. 

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