Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

Federal regulators should start collecting nursing home staffing information directly from payroll systems as soon as possible, members of the Congressional Seniors Task Force said in a letter to a top healthcare official Tuesday.

The letter came a day after The New York Times ran a front-page article criticizing the government’s five-star rating system for skilled nursing facilities. The ratings are based largely on self-reported criteria, and facilities can goose their ratings by increasing staff in the weeks before an anticipated inspection, the article stated.

Though it did not bring up the Times article directly, the Task Force letter did criticize the practice of “staffing up” prior to a survey. It also noted that staffing data is not routinely audited. A provision of the Affordable Care Act was meant to resolve these issues, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services needs to act quickly to implement that part of the law, the lawmakers wrote in their letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner.

“I authored the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires nursing home staffing information be based on actual payroll data – ensuring that the information is accurate,” stated Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), in a press release accompanying the letter.

CMS already has missed the March 2012 deadline for implementation, the letter emphasized. This is despite the fact that the agency collected payroll data as part of a recently completed project. The lawmakers asked Tavenner to announce when the payroll data collection system will be operational.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) joined Schakowsky in spearheading the letter. It also was signed by Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Charles Rangel (D-NY).