Feds Scrap Proposal to Make Home Health Accreditor Inspections Public

Federal health officials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have rescinded a proposal that would have required private accreditors to make public any problems or violations they found during inspections of home health agencies.

In April, CMS put forward the proposal to require accrediting organizations to post inspection reports and correction plans for any issues found on their public-facing websites. Home health agencies that receive Medicare funding are required to meet federal requirements and are subject to government oversight, Propublica reported. The law allows home health providers to pay private accreditors for this oversight instead.

On August 2, the agency withdrew the proposal, stating that federal law prohibits CMS from disclosing the results of inspections, and, although the proposal suggested that private accreditors release the information, it may appear that CMS was attempting to circumvent the law, Propublica reported.

“CMS is committed to ensuring that patients have the ability to review the findings used to determine that a facility meets the health and safety standards required for Medicare participation,” the agency said in a fact sheet. “However, we believe further review, consideration, and refinement of this proposal is necessary to ensure that CMS establishes requirements, consistent with our statutory authority, that will inform patients and continue to support high quality care.”

Accreditors objected to the proposal, questioning its legality and efficacy. If implemented, the rule would result in increased costs for health care providers and decreased safety for patients, The Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs nationwide, said in a June letter.

The Joint Commission decline to comment for this story.

“There will be a race to the bottom on quality as health care organizations seek out oversight bodies that will report on the least number of standards comparable to the Medicare requirements,” the Joint Commission’s letter stated. “This may also lead to a growth in non-accredited facilities that will then be surveyed at taxpayer expense and with fewer oversight visits.”

Patient safety advocates and consumer groups have responded heatedly to CMS’s about-face, considering the reversal a betrayal of patients’ right to information.

“We are disappointed to learn that the agency that runs Medicare (CMS) has reversed course on its proposal to require private accrediting organizations, such as the Joint Commission, to publicly release reports of problems they found in hospitals and other health care facilities,” said an online statement from CEO Leah Binder of the Leapfrog Group, a watchdog organization that advocates for quality and safety in American health care. “The public deserves full transparency on how the health care industry performs. Instead, transparency has been sacrificed to accommodate special interests that lobby to avoid disclosing embarrassing information about health care quality.”

Written by Elizabeth Jakaitis