Senators urge feds to delay release of hospital star ratings

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is set to reveal overall star ratings for hospital quality on April 21, but 60 senators have urged the agency to delay the release amid concerns about incomplete and misleading data.

In a letter to Acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt, the senators say that flaws in quality measures lead to wide variations between CMS' quality ratings and other reports, echoing 2015 research that found four other ratings systems were often at odds, leading to widespread confusion among consumers.

The senators also faulted CMS for insufficient transparency on the methodology and data used to determine the ratings. "It is clear that additional time is necessary for hospitals and stakeholders to thoroughly review the data and understand the impact of the current methodology to ensure the validity and accuracy of the information before it is publicly released," the letter states.

They also expressed concerns that CMS' ratings methodology failed to properly incorporate providers that treat low-income or disadvantaged patients. Last year, both America's Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges pointed out this flaw, calling for CMS to incorporate demographic and socioeconomic data into its calculations. Research, the organizations said, shows that hospitals with a disproportionately low-income patient population are at high risk of a lower rating even as they provide quality care.

The star ratings and the methodology used for them have long been a source of controversy; in January, the agency issued a report clarifying its methodology and offering acute care providers an advance look at their upcoming ratings, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the letter (.pdf)