Opinion: Medicare payment rules hinder the fight against superbugs

Medicare's bundled payments for treating infections in hospitals prompts the use of older ineffective antibiotics and stifles the development of new ones.
The superbug Staphylcocus epidermidis is diplayed on an agar plate in a lab in Melbourne, Australia. Source: WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images

Late last year, a retirement community in Vermont was quarantined after an outbreak of antibiotic resistant bacteria swept through the facility, sickening 70 seniors. In pediatric oncology wards, children beating cancer are increasingly felled by drug-resistant bacteria and fungal infections. Every week, we hear more stories of infections that have become untreatable due to resistance.

Such alarms, once rare, are becoming more commonplace. Bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that have become resistant to antimicrobial drugs — often dubbed superbugs — thrive in communities with high antibiotic use like nursing homes, hospitals, and preschools. In one recent study, drug-resistant bacteria were. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that health departments found more than 220 instances of “unusual” antibiotic resistance in 2017 spread across more than half of states in the U.S. According to the CDC, these bacteria “can spread like wildfire” and some of the infections were resistant to every antibiotic available.

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