Debate Surrounds Federal System That Rates Nursing Homes

A new federal rating system to track quality gives nursing homes mixed reviews. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) developed the Nursing Home Compare Web site, which compares the nation's 15,600 homes. There were complaints that the old site was unmanageable.

The Washington Post and Kaiser Health News noted that "the online tool uses movie-review-style ratings -- one to five stars -- to compare homes based on such measures as number of employees, state health inspection results and how many hours of licensed nursing care are provided each day. ... But there's debate among industry and consumer groups about how well it's meeting the public's needs. The federal agency that runs the site plans to survey users later this year on exactly that question." 

The story continues: "The industry, which had sought to delay the system's rollout, complained that the grading system was started much too quickly. Nursing homes say the information, gleaned from homes as well as from state inspection reports, misleads families and patients because it doesn't give an accurate picture of the amount and kind of care in each facility. A leading consumer group wants the site to provide more details about inspection results and quality-of-care measures. Consumer advocates and industry representatives are calling for changes in the way the ratings assess staffing, which all sides agree is the best indicator of quality of care. Nursing homes say simple counting of workers does not reflect the care patients actually receive, while consumer advocates complain that employee information that comes from homes is unchecked and may contain errors. ... CMS is talking to the industry, patient advocates and states about changes, including the way the system measures quality of care ... Six months after it launched, the rating system's impact is unclear. Even though CMS says the site attracts 50,000 daily visitors, both nursing homes and patient advocates suspect many families don't know about it" (Olson, 7/14).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.