Overall star ratings from CMS still drawing ire, admiration after delay

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CMS still plans to release its overall hospital star ratings in July after delaying the program's scheduled April release due to stakeholder backlash, but the agency has made "minor tweaks" to how the ratings are calculated.

The agency reiterated its plans to move forward with the program in a May 12 presentation, reports Kaiser Health News.

The change in formula shouldn't come as a surprise, according to David Friend, MD, chief transformation officer and managing director of BDO's Center for Healthcare Excellence and Innovation. In an interview with Becker's, he says, "[CMS] will reserve the right to get smarter, and over time they'll evolve [the rating system]."

Despite the formula change, the star ratings are still harsh on most hospitals — if the scores were released today with the new formula, just 100 hospitals would receive the top score of five stars, KHN reported.

Many stakeholders are weary about releasing the scores. The preliminary formula calculates ratings in such a way that smaller hospitals that deal with less complex patients would be more likely to receive five stars, Steven Lipstein, president of St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare, told KHN. As the scores stand, BJC's larger, more advanced hospitals fared poorly, while smaller community hospitals received more stars. "That's not surprising when you look inside the ratings and see how they're built," Mr. Lipstein said in the report.

Ashish K. Jha, MD, a practicing physician and professor at Harvard's school of public health, echoed similar concerns. "If you come out with a rating that says Cleveland Clinic is terrible but [a] podunk hospital in North Carolina, they're the bomb, that's a disconnect," he told KHN.

But other stakeholders, such as consumer advocacy groups, have a different view on this controversial rating system.

"People need this information now. Trying to wait until everyone's 100 percent happy with everything just delays it further than it needs to be," Andrew Scholnick, an AARP lobbyist, told KHN.

Dr. Friend tells Becker's something similar. "Hospitals are going to crawl before they walk before they run," he says. "I think this is all really positive, but there will be a lot of growing pains between now and the future."

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