GAO wants nursing homes' Five-Star Ratings more consumer-friendly, possibly with resident satisfaction info

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Sen. Casey called for the report, saying a GAO investigation would "put the Five-Star Rating program on a stronger footing.”
Sen. Casey called for the report, saying a GAO investigation would "put the Five-Star Rating program on a stronger footing.”

Changes to providers' online ratings may be on the horizon under recommendations published Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office.

The agency found in a new report that while both the Nursing Home Compare website and the Five-Star Quality Rating System serve as important tools for consumers, the information provided by both sources could be improved to make consumers' nursing home choices easier and better informed.

The agency's report is the result of an investigation into the Nursing Home Compare website and the Five-Star Quality Rating System requested last summer by Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). The duo asked the GAO to assess the timeliness, reliability, strengths and weaknesses of the online ratings.

The GAO's investigation found that consumers may find interpreting facilities' overall ratings complicated, especially when providers with lower overall star ratings perform better than higher-rated homes on certain measures. Consumers surveyed by the agency also expressed concerns with the timeliness of information posted on the Nursing Home Compare website. On average, the GAO found, the information is nine months old by the time it hits the website.

The GAO also suggested that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services add information to the Five-Star System that allows consumers to compare facilities nationally, and show resident satisfaction ratings for each facility.

“We believe consumer satisfaction surveys could be a more direct measure of nursing home satisfaction than other available measures,” the report concluded.

The GAO's investigation into Nursing Home Compare found that potential improvements to the website have been identified by CMS, but the agency lacks a process to evaluate and prioritize such improvements.

The Department of Health and Human Services agreed with all of the GAO's recommendations except for the one that suggests the rating system be updated to allow consumers to compare facilities nationally.

Click here to read the GAO's full findings.