The emergency entrance at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago as seen on Nov. 16, 2007. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is the primary teaching hospital for Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo)
The emergency entrance at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago as seen on Nov. 16, 2007. Northwestern Memorial Hospital is the primary teaching hospital for Northwestern University Feinburg School of Medicine (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo)
(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo)

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, patients 85 and older are more likely to return to the hospital within 30 days of being sent home than people a decade or two younger, according to the analysis of data from Medicare, the U.S. health program for the elderly and disabled.

But patients also have higher odds of returning soon after discharge if they lack a high school diploma, have limited income and assets or have health benefits from Medicaid, the U.S. health program for the poor.

The findings suggest that Medicare penalties for what’s known as readmissions under the Affordable Care Act may in some instances mete out punishment for outcomes that are beyond doctors’ control, said lead study author Dr. Michael Barnett and senior author Dr. Michael McWilliams, colleagues at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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