Mortality rates for Medicare patients who underwent coronary artery bypass surgery were compared with those who had angioplasty or angioplasty and bypass surgery. Two data sets were used for this study: The first contained information on demographic factors, co-morbidities and subsequent mortality on all 96,666 Medicare patients who had bypass surgery or angioplasty in 1985; the second contained additional detailed clinical data collected using the MedisGroups method on a random sample of 2,931 revascularization patients from 6 states. From the national data set 30-day and 1-year mortality rates were 3.8 and 8.2% for 25,423 angioplasty patients and 6.4 and 11.8% for 71,243 bypass surgery patients (p < 0.001 for both time periods). Mortality rates for the MedisGroups data were 4.4 and 8.5% for the angioplasty patients and 6.5 and 11.9% for the bypass surgery patients. After eliminating patients admitted with a myocardial infarction, mortality rates were 1.9 and 6.0% for 632 angioplasty patients and 5.1 and 10.8% for 1,730 bypass surgery patients. The risk-adjusted relative risk of mortality for bypass surgery versus angioplasty was 1.72 (p = 0.001) for all patients, 2.15 (p < 0.001) for low-risk patients and 0.90 (p = not significant) for high-risk patients. Results suggest that low-risk patients have better survival with angioplasty because of lower short-term mortality. © 1992.