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Hidden perks of Obamacare

Most people know the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, for its web-based health insurance exchange, and its unpopular requirement that everyone carry health insurance or pay a penalty.

But the program runs deeper than that, and unknown to most people, the Affordable Care Act is slowly improving health outcomes for hospital patients – and saving money in the process.

According to new data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, major strides have been made in patient safety – preventing nearly 15,000 deaths, saving 560,000 patients from harm, and piling up $4.1 billion in cost-savings.

Obamacare helps improve the healthcare system by working with private and public partners, and in part by changing the way hospitals are paid.

From 2010, when the program started, to 2012, there has been a 53 percent drop in ventilator-associated pneumonia. There has been a 65 percent drop in early elective delivery, which can lead to health problems in babies.

There has been a 16 percent drop in the obstetric trauma rate. Trauma is the No. 1 cause of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.

There has been a 15 percent drop in falls and trauma suffered by hospital patients.

There has been a 25 percent drop in cases of pressure ulcers.

And finally, a 13 percent drop in cases of venous thromboembolic complications, which had been killing about 300,000 people a year, two-thirds of whom picked up the cardiovascular illness in the hospital, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The Affordable Care Act has been instrumental in encouraging hospital best-practices to cut down on such hospital-acquired maladies.

Obamacare is also helping reform other large health systems, such as repeat trips to the hospital for the same condition by fee-for-service Medicare patients.

The 30-day hospital readmission rate held study for such patients from 2007 to 2001: Nearly 20 percent of those patients were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days.

By 2012, 18.5 percent of Medicare patients were being readmitted.

That fell to 17.5 percent last year, translating into 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions (an 8 percent drop) over the two-year period.

Obamacare helps save money for taxpayers and patients, and encourages better medical practices, by paying hospitals based on best practices, such as higher Medicare reimbursement for fewer readmissions.

The Department of Health and Human Services in 2011 joined with hospitals, employers, health plans, doctors, nurses, state government and others to set up the Partnership for Patients, which aims to reduce preventable hospital-acquired maladies by 40 percent and 30-day readmissions by 20 percent by the end of this year.

It is no pipedream, as shown by a pilot program involving two New York hospital systems totaling nearly 190 hospitals.

From 2010 to 2013, they showed some dramatic double-digit decreases in the number of preventable hospital-acquired conditions including pressure ulcers, central line infections, falls with injuries, ventilator-acquired pneumonia, surgical site infections and adverse drug events.

Obamacare may have loudly botched the launch of its website, but the underlying program has been quietly improving health care and reducing costs for taxpayers and patients.