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CMS Hospital Star Ratings Release Met with Provider Dismay

While CMS has released its hospital star ratings, industry organizations like the American Hospital Association maintain that they are not an accurate portrayal of patient experience and hospital quality.

The latest batch of CMS Hospital Star Ratings are now available, but healthcare providers are not entirely satisfied with the effort to increase data transparency and assist patient decision-making.

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In a CMS blog post, Kate Goodrich, MD, MHS, director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, announced the ratings release, explaining that is a part of the federal agency’s overall effort to help empower patients in making decisions about their own healthcare.

“When individuals and their families need to make important decisions about health care, they seek a reliable way to understand the best choice for themselves or their loved ones,” Goodrich said. “That’s why over the past decade, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has published information about the quality of care across the five different healthcare settings that most families encounter.”

The agency created the star ratings system, which is hosted on CMS’s Hospital Compare website, to make hospital quality and patient satisfaction data more digestible for healthcare consumers. The star ratings reflect a boiling down of the 64 quality measures CMS collects about hospital quality and patient experience.

But industry stakeholders have expressed concerns about the results shown through the CMS hospital star ratings.

Following Goodrich’s announcement, the American Hospital Association – which has avidly opposed the star ratings for some time – released a public statement lambasting the agency for releasing the ratings before they were ready.

We are further disappointed that CMS moved forward with release of its star ratings, which clearly are not ready for prime time. As written, they fall short of meeting principles that the AHA has embraced for quality report cards and rating systems. We want to work with CMS and the Congress to fix the hospital star ratings so that it is helpful and useful to both patients and the hospitals that treat them.

According to AHA, which is led by president and CEO Rick Pollack, the star ratings do not present an accurate portrayal of hospital quality or patient satisfaction. The organization also argues the system confuses patients and keeps them from making informed decisions about their healthcare.

“The new CMS star ratings program is confusing for patients and families trying to choose the best hospital to meet their health care needs,” AHA says.

“Health care consumers making critical decisions about their care cannot be expected to rely on a rating system that raises far more questions than answers. And it adds yet another to a long list of conflicting rating and ranking systems.

AHA is not the only body advocating against the star ratings system. Congress has introduced a bill calling for CMS to delay the release of their star ratings in an effort to perfect their calculation methodology, making the ratings a more accurate portrayal of quality and patient experience.

Congress has also written a letter to CMS’s Patrick Conway, MD, requesting CMS delay the release of this batch of star ratings. The letter gained the signatures of 60 Senate members and over 225 members of the House of Representatives.

CMS says it will assess public feedback to potentially adjust the methodology for calculating the star ratings, but also points out that the ratings have received positive reviews from many stakeholders, and that research has confirmed the accuracy of the program.

“We have received numerous letters from national patient and consumer advocacy groups supporting the release of these ratings because it improves the transparency and accessibility of hospital quality information,” Goodrich explained. “In addition, researchers found that hospitals with more stars on the Hospital Compare website have tended to have lower death and readmission rates.”

Goodrich also noted the agency’s efforts to help hospitals better understand the program and its methodology, most likely as a way to boost positive perception of the star ratings program.

While CMS’s actions today may have been met with dismay, at least on the part of the AHA and some members of Congress, it still has time to improve. As noted in Goodrich’s blog post, the agency will continue to perfect its ratings methodology.

Through the help offered from AHA and other industry groups, perhaps CMS will be able to make the improvements that will please all important stakeholders, especially the patients utilizing the ratings.

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