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CMS Launches Online Overall Quality Star Ratings for Hospitals

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released an updated hospital quality star ratings system on Wednesday, aimed at allowing patients and their families to easily compare facilities online.

The updated overall star ratings system uses data from existing quality metrics publicly reported on the agency’s Hospital Compare website. The ratings measure routine care that the average patient would receive, as well as focuses on areas including hospital-acquired conditions. Groups representing hospitals, including the American Hospital Association and the Federation of American Hospitals, were quick to criticize the release of the quality ratings system as hasty.

But CMS says the ratings will help consumers make better choices about where they receive care.

“These easy-to-understand star ratings are available online and empower people to compare and choose across various types of facilities from nursing homes to home health agencies,” Katie Goodrich, director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality at CMS, wrote in a blog post. “Today, we are updating the star ratings on the Hospital Compare website to help millions of patients and their families learn about the quality of hospitals, compare facilities in their area side-by-side, and ask important questions about care quality when visiting a hospital or other health care provider.”

CMS delayed the release of the ratings earlier this year to allow more time for outreach to hospitals to understand concerns. That delay came after lawmakers from both parties urged the agency to delay the release of the ratings because they did not consider factors like a patient’s socioeconomic status or patient complexity.

Reps. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) and Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill on Monday that sought to further delay the release of the ratings by at least a year. But since Congress is in recess until September, any action on the bill would be unlikely.

Advocacy groups said they agreed with lawmakers that the quality ratings weren’t yet ready for release. Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the AHA, said CMS’s system adds to “a long list of conflicting rating and ranking systems.”

“We are further disappointed that CMS moved forward with release of its star ratings, which clearly are not ready for prime time,” Pollack said in a statement. “As written, they fall short of meeting principles that the AHA has embraced for quality report cards and rating systems.”

Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the FAH echoed Pollack, saying the ratings “are not ready for primetime.”

The ratings system does not recognize differences between small and large hospitals, teaching and non-teaching hospitals or account for hospitals in under-privileged areas, he said.

“CMS should go back to the drawing board. The information patients and their families need is too important to go public with the approach announced today,” Kahn said in a statement. “FAH, along with other major hospital associations as well as 60 Senators and 225 House Members, have urged CMS several times to work more closely with hospitals to identify and fix these issues before posting the stars online. That has not happened yet.”