GAO to review accuracy of nursing home ratings

Members of Congress request review of system that was subject of Center probe

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Edna Irvin lies in her bed at the Arkansas Health Center in Benton, Arkansas. A Center for Public Integrity analysis of more than 10,000 nursing homes across the country found that Arkansas was one of two states where the daily level of registered nurse care listed on public website Nursing Home Compare was at least twice the level the Center calculated than an analysis of annual financial cost reports. The Arkansas Health Center was not included in the analysis. 

 

Jon Lowenstein/NOOR

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to conduct a review of the federal government’s nursing home rating system —the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation last fall. The action by the watchdog arm of Congress comes in response to a request from Senators Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Representative Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland.

Earlier this month, the two Senators wrote to GAO calling for a review of the rating system and Representative Cummings joined their request, following his own letter last year to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Those actions come in the wake of an announcement in February that CMS was making changes to its nursing home rating system.

Last year, investigations by the Center and the New York Times found widespread gaps between staffing levels reported by nursing homes to a widely used federal website and those calculated through an analysis of the homes’ annual financial documents. The gaps occurred across both for-profit and nonprofit nursing homes, with more than 80 percent of nursing homes reporting higher levels of registered nurse care to the Nursing Homes Compare website than were reflected in their reports to Medicare.

The Center’s series was the recipient of The Joseph D. Ryle Award for Excellence in Writing on the Problems of Geriatrics from the National Press Club.

In their release, Senators Casey and Wyden said, “The GAO’s decision to conduct a review is a first step towards ensuring the accuracy of this system that millions of families rely on...The Five-Star rating system has the potential to make a substantial difference in the lives of vulnerable seniors but the Administration has to make sure the rating system is working.  We have to get this right.”

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