… A new study estimates that about one in five Medicare patients released from a hospital after treatment winds up back inside again within 30 days. That adds a staggering $17.4 billion to Medicare's cost.

… [T]he new study raises important questions about the quality of care provided at great cost to hospitalized patients around the country.

National health spending has been growing at more than twice the rate of inflation for decades.

It reached $2.2 trillion in 2007. The largest single chunk of those expenditures — nearly $700 billion — went for hospital care.

For all the money we spend, there's ample evidence that quality remains uneven at best.

The new study was published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers analyzed billing records for the nearly 12 million Medicare patients hospitalized in 2004. Medicare cost about $300 billion that year, with nearly $103 billion of that going for hospital care.

… The new report comes at a time when attention increasingly is focused on improving health care quality. Medicare recently stopped paying for costs associated with two dozen common medical errors. Many private insurance companies will follow suit.

Last summer, officials at the federal agency that oversees Medicare recommended that Congress reduce payments to hospitals with consistently high re-admission rates.

… Hospitals cannot solve problems they don't identify and study. Reducing hospital re-admission rates will save money and improve the quality of health care.