CMS Administrator Seema Verma: Home Health Compare Overhaul Is on Its Way

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Thursday that users of Home Health Compare — its consumer-facing database of home health provider quality information — can expect to see a major revamp.

CMS plans to roll Home Health Compare and seven other Compare sites into one tool called “Medicare Care Compare” sometime this spring. Medicare Care Compare will feature data about providers across the continuum, perhaps putting home health providers and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) in a more direct head-to-head battle.

“To meet the needs of today’s Medicare beneficiaries and improve the online Medicare customer experience, CMS plans to combine and standardize these eight existing Compare tools, allowing users to access the same information through a single point of entry and simplified navigation to find the information that is currently divided in places like Nursing Home Compare and Hospital Compare,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in blog post.

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Currently, CMS maintains eight separate Compare tools on Medicare.gov for the following settings: hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, dialysis facilities, long-term care hospitals (LTCHs), in-patient rehabilitation facilities (IRFs), physician offices and hospice agencies.

The idea behind Medicare Care Compare is to enhance the user experience by making the site easier to navigate — addressing one of the main difficulties of the current Compare tools setup, according to Verma.

“In the new, unified experience, patients will be able to easily find the information that is most important to help make health care decisions, like getting quality data by the type of health care provider,” she said.

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For years, CMS has held the position that quality scores should be more transparent for consumers, but oftentimes star ratings have little impact when it comes to steering patients toward the top providers in their area.

In fact, for more than 94% of patients who use home health services post-discharge, there is at least one provider within 15 miles that has a higher quality score than their current provider, according to MedPAC.

In turn, the top-performing agencies on Home Health Compare have only raised their market share by less than 1% since the system originally launched in 2015, MedPAC claims.

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With its focus on user-friendliness, Medicare Care Compare may encourage more consumers to utilize star ratings and ensure that they are receiving the highest quality care available to them.

While the announcement of a unified Medicare Care Compare tool was welcomed by the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), the organization also expressed concern about the use of star ratings as a quality measure.

“NAHC has long supported CMS’s efforts to provide guidance and support to beneficiaries regarding the best choice of care providers,” NAHC President William A. Dombi told Home Health Care News. “This latest step should further improve the information sources available. Still, we remain concerned that the home health star rating methodology involves a distribution of stars, rather than a system that awards stars based on reaching certain performance target levels. The CMS model is not consistent with what consumers see in their everyday lives.”

In addition to the Home Health Compare overhaul, CMS announced that it plans to launch an enhanced companion portal — Provider Data Catalog — for researchers and stakeholders who need to access more detailed data.

“It will have an improved interface and intuitive search features to allow users to easily search and download [CMS’s] publicly reported data, better serving stakeholders who use the interactive and downloadable datasets like those currently found on data.Medicare.gov.,” Verma said.

Another interesting early takeaway about Medicare Care Compare is Verma’s use of the word “unified.”

CMS is currently exploring what a unified payment model for post-acute care would look like, with increasing support from some parts of the U.S. health care system. One difficulty of a unified payment model is obviously the vastly different data sets and quality measures across settings.

Medicare Care Compare wouldn’t fix that issue, but it is a step toward some degree of universal benchmarks.

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