Hospital Compare ratings get update while CMS seeks feedback on changes

Star ratings on federal hospital rating website Hospital Compare have gotten another update, and the site uses the existing methodology federal officials say they are working to revamp.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) updated measurement data and the overall hospital quality star ratings on the federal website to ensure patients have "up-to-date" information, CMS Administrator Seema Verma wrote in a blog post.

"The American people deserve up-to-date information on how hospitals are performing," she wrote. "We are not done seeking input on the Overall Star Ratings methodology to inform future updates. This feedback is extremely valuable, as we continue our work to help patients choose hospitals that meet the standards of quality they deserve."

RELATED: Rating the raters? Hospital experts turn tables and critique quality comparison sites

CMS launched the website in 2005 to make it easier for consumers to search for a hospital based on quality. The data, collected through CMS’ Hospital Quality Initiative programs, include specific quality measures as well as the overall hospital star ratings. But the website faced sharp criticism from the industry, which claims it misleads patients and is prone to errors.

The agency made changes to the methodology it used to calculate star ratings in 2019, but many in the industry said the changes did not go far enough. In August, CMS officials said they plan to propose new updates to the star ratings methodology. They will be included in the Fiscal 2021 Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System proposed rule, which will be issued this spring.

Healthcare groups, including the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, are among those that have called for major changes to how Hospital Compare calculates its comparisons for consumers. And until it does, those groups say, the site ought to be taken down.

RELATED: Healthcare groups renew calls for CMS to remove Hospital Compare ratings until methodology addressed

America's Essential Hospitals (AEH) said it was disappointed by the latest release of the new ratings data without changes to the methodology because of their potential to "disadvantage essential hospitals, which care for patients who face severe socioeconomic challenges."

"Health care consumers need accurate, relevant information to make the best care decisions; the current star ratings do not meet this need," said Beth Feldpus, AEH's senior vice president of policy and advocacy, in a statement. "The ratings rely on a methodology that fails to account for differences among hospitals and, therefore, could mislead rather than inform consumers."

In a blog posted in August in the journal NEJM Catalyst, a group of methodology experts from both academic health centers and the private sector decided to examine some of the top grading systems. They said CMS' Hospital Compare's biggest strength is that it is compiled by the biggest payer in the U.S. But, they said, its information is limited in some ways. For instance, they said it contains very few elective procedures or procedure-specific measures.