LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The University of Kentucky's hospital has stopped performing Medicare-funded heart transplants after it failed to meet the minimum number of operations to qualify for reimbursement for the procedure.
The school's Chandler Medical Center hasn't performed the 12 heart transplants annually required by Medicare. The hospital has performed 14 of the surgeries annually over the last decade, but that number has dropped in recent years.
Hospital officials said the decision to back away from Medicare was made voluntarily and the government was notified in a letter last week.
Doctors at Chandler Medical Center said the need for heart transplants has declined in recent years because of advances in medication and other surgical procedures.
"Part of the reason the volumes are going down is because we have so much more to offer than we did in the past," said Dr. Richard Lofgren, UK's chief medical officer. "We were struggling over the last couple of years to meet the (Medicare) requirements."
From 1988 through March 31, 2007, there were 581 heart transplants in Kentucky, 20 of which were performed in 2006 and three of those at Chandler, according to the United Network Organ Sharing.
UK's heart transplant program will continue, but not with Medicare recipients.
The change could cause problems for some Medicare patients from West Virginia and other states, said Dr. Chand Ramaiah, surgical director of the UK HealthCare Transplant Center.
"If we don't operate on Medicare patients, then they will suffer," said Ramaiah. "They will have to go out of state. Most patients may consider that a real hardship and may not pursue it."
The Kentucky Hospital Association reported UK Medical Center had performed 22 heart transplants - second-most in the state - within the last three years. Jewish Hospital of Louisville performed 55.
Barbara Mackovic, a spokeswoman for Jewish Hospital, said its Medicare transplants are expected to continue.
The change will not affect Medicare patients who have already undergone transplants at Chandler Medical Center, Ramaiah said.
There are two Medicare patients at Chandler Medical Center waiting for transplants. Lofgren said there are plans to sit down with them and discuss options. Patients have the option of going to Louisville, Cleveland or Cincinnati.
Other Medicare patients will continue to receive treatment at UK, but not for heart transplant surgery, Ramaiah said.
Ramaiah said UK hopes to restore its Medicare funding for heart transplants.
"You will see the changes within the next year or two," Ramaiah said. "We are pretty confident we'll get back on track."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)