CMS again delays release of hospital star ratings

A compass pointing to the word "quality."
CMS will again delay the release of its annual Hospital Compare Star Ratings. (Getty/Olivier Le Moal)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced it would postpone the planned July update to its Hospital Compare Star Ratings. 

In a notice posted Tuesday, the agency said the update will "give time for additional analysis of the impact of changes to some of the measures on the star ratings and to address stakeholder concerns." CMS said the star ratings posted in December will remain live on Hospital Compare until further notice. 

CMS said it will seek additional feedback on changes to the measures included in it star ratings, as hospitals and other stakeholders have raised concerns about the preview reports provided to them earlier this year. The agency said it will conduct a public comment period, meet with a multidisciplinary expert panel and engage with leaders in the provider space. 

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"When changes are made to the underlying measures, it is vital to take the time needed to understand the impact of those changes and ensure we are giving consumers the most useful information," CMS said. 

RELATED: CMS adds new quality measures to its long-term care, inpatient rehabilitation comparison sites 

This is not the first time CMS has delayed its star ratings as it rolls out the new methodology. The December update was released following a lengthy delay out of its planned summer release. 

CMS' changes led to more hospitals earning either one- or five-star rankings last winter, and the new methodology puts less emphasis on patient experience while putting more stock in readmission rates and the timeliness of care.

Despite the updates, the majority of hospitals earned between two and four stars, in line with previous years.

CMS' Star Ratings are controversial, and major hospital groups welcomed the delay. America's Essential Hospitals thanked CMS for its "prudent" decision to delay the ratings in a statement

"Reviews of July preview reports show large shifts in overall hospital star ratings from December 2017 to July 2018," the group said. "These changes have created confusion and raised new questions about the reliability and validity of the methodology used to calculate these ratings."

Tom Nickels, the American Hospital Association's executive vice president for government relations and public policy, said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare that "CMS made the right call" in delaying the release. 

RELATED: Consumers care about both clinical and 'patient experience' ratings to choose primary care doctors 

"As longstanding supporters of transparency, the AHA is committed to continuing the dialogue with CMS about the goal we share—providing the public with accurate, meaningful information about quality," Nickels said. 

Providers argue that the ratings are unfairly weighted, which hurts hospitals that treat large numbers of low-income or highly-complex patients. Analysts have also said that hospital rankings writ large may be "confusing at best and misleading at worst" for consumers. 

However, organizations that compile hospital ratings, such as Healthgrades, argue that patients need access to quality data.