CMS Pauses Plans to Limit Public Knowledge of Medical and Surgical Harm at Hospitals During COVID-19 Pandemic
Healthcare industry watchdog Group Leapfrog says that if CMS suppresses the data “all of us will be in the dark on which hospitals put us most at risk”
For some time, hospitals and clinical laboratories have struggled with transparency regulation when it comes to patient outcomes, test prices, and costs. So, it is perplexing that while that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) pushes for more transparency in the cost of hospital care and quality, the federal agency also sought to limit public knowledge of 10 types of medical and surgical harm that occurred in hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And even though the CMS announced in its August 1 final rule (CMS-1771-F) that it was “pausing” its plans to suppress data relating to 10 measures that make up the Patient Safety and Adverse Events Composite (PSI 90), a part of the Hospital-Acquired Condition (HAC) Reduction Program, it is valuable for hospital and medical laboratory leaders to understand what the federal agency was seeking to accomplish.
COVID-19’s Impact on Measure Data
Within its lengthy 2023 Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System and Long Term Care Hospitals Proposed Rule (CMS-1771-P), the federal agency cites the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) as a reason for the adjustment in public access to certain data.
According to USA Today, medical complications at hospitals such as pressure ulcers and falls leading to fractures would be suppressed in reports starting next year. Additionally, CMS “also would halt a program to dock the pay of the worst performers on a list of safety measures, pausing a years-long effort that links hospitals’ skill in preventing such complications to reimbursement,” Kaiser Health News reported.
The proposed rule’s executive summary reads in part, “Due to the impact of the COVID-19 PHE on measure data used in our value-based purchasing (VBP) programs, we are proposing to suppress several measures in the Hospital VBP Program and HAC Reduction Program … If finalized as proposed, for the FY 2023 program year, hospitals participating in the HAC Reduction Program will not be given a measure score, a Total HAC score, nor will hospitals receive a payment penalty.”
These 10 measures include:
- PSI 03-Pressure Ulcer Rate
- PSI 06-Iatrogenic Pneumothorax Rate
- PSI 08-In Hospital Fall with Hip Fracture Rate
- PSI 09-Perioperative Hemorrhage or Hematoma Rate
- PSI 10-Postoperative Acute Kidney Injury Requiring Dialysis Rate
- PSI 11-Postoperative Respiratory Failure Rate
- PSI 12-Perioperative Pulmonary Embolism or Deep Vein Thrombosis Rate
- PSI 13-Postoperative Sepsis Rate
- PSI 14-Postoperative Wound Dehiscence Rate
- PSI 15-Abdominopelvic Accidental Puncture/Laceration Rate
The measures would not be accessible to the public or appear on the CMS Hospital Compare website, MedPage Today added.
In a fact sheet, CMS noted that its intent in proposing the rule was neither to reward nor penalize providers at a time when they were dealing with the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, new safety protocols for staff and patients, and an unprecedented rise in inpatient cases.
Groups Opposed to the CMS Proposal
Like healthcare costs, quality data need to be accessible to the public, according to a health insurance industry representative. “Cost data, in the absence of quality data, are at best meaningless, and at worst, harmful. We see this limitation on collection and publication of data about these very serious safety issues as a step backward,” Robert Andrews, JD, CEO, Health Transformation Alliance, told Fortune.
The Leapfrog Group, a Washington, DC-based non-profit watchdog organization focused on healthcare quality and safety, urged CMS to reverse the proposal. The organization said on its website that it had collected 270 signatures on letters to CMS.
“Dangerous complications, such as sepsis, kidney harm, deep bedsores, and lung collapse, are largely preventable yet kill 25,000 people a year and harm 94,000,” wrote the Leapfrog Group in a statement. “Data on these complications is not available to the public from any other source. If CMS suppresses this data, all of us will be in the dark on which hospitals put us most at risk.”
Leah Binder, Leapfrog President/CEO, told MedPage Today she is concerned the suppression of public reporting of safety data may continue “indefinitely” because CMS does not want “to make hospitals unhappy with them.”
AHA Voices Support
Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association noted that the CMS “has made this proposal to forgo calculating certain hospital bonuses and penalties due to the impact of the pandemic,” Healthcare Dive reported.
“We agree with CMS that it would be unfair to base hospital incentives and penalties on data that have been skewed by the unprecedented impacts of the pandemic,” said Akin Demehin, AHA Senior Director, Quality and Safety Policy, in a statement to Healthcare Dive.
Though CMS’ plans to limit public knowledge of medical and surgical complications have been put on hold, medical laboratory leaders will want to stay abreast of CMS’ next steps with this final rule. Suppression of hospital harm during a period of increased demand for hospital transparency could trigger a backlash with healthcare consumers.
—Donna Marie Pocius