Marjorie Crear suffers from back problems, diabetes and hypertension, and has more prescriptions than she can count.
"Oh God, it must be nine or 10 medicines," she said. "It is hard to keep track!"
That confusion is one reason why the 66-year-old went to the emergency room eight times last year.
"I went more than I wanted to go, but I had no choice," she said.
Because of health care reform, hospitals now have to pay penalties to Medicare if too many of their patients return to the hospital within 30 days of being discharged. Those often avoidable readmissions cost the health care system about $26 billion each year.
UCLA Medical Center is among the hospitals nationwide that are now working to cut down readmission rates. It's spending more than $1 million to pair discharged patients with a care coordinator.
Tiffany Phan is one of 15 comprehensive care coordinators at UCLA. She's been working with Crear since November, and frequently checks-in with her to make sure she takes the right medicine, and understands her doctor's instructions.
"As I was doing that, her blood pressure decreased, her blood sugar came down, she remembered to take medications," Phan said.
Crear says the relationship probably saved her life.
"I know eventually she's going to call and I'm not just going to lay here and die," Crear said.
Since the two met six months ago, Crear has managed to stay out of the hospital and gained a friend in the process.
Medicare expects to collect about $280 million in penalties this year from hospitals that were unable to reduce the number of patients readmitted soon after being discharged.
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