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GAO Report Calls for Increased Transparency in Nursing Home Ownership

February 03, 2023

On Thursday, February 3, 2023, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report, "Nursing Homes: CMS Should Make Ownership Information More Transparent for Consumers,” finding fault with how the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) currently provides information to consumers regarding nursing home ownership. The report noted that ample evidence demonstrated that different ownership types often lead to disparate health outcomes for nursing home residents. For instance, non-profit homes generally perform better on measures of quality than for-profit nursing homes. The GAO report acknowledged these differences in care quality and emphasized the importance of accurate and accessible ownership interests to consumers.

The report’s primary focus was on how CMS provides ownership information on its Care Compare website. Echoing concerns of Consumer Voice and other advocates, the GAO report found that CMS:

  • Was not providing information in plain language with clear graphics. For instance, the GAO noted terms such as “5% owners or greater indirect ownership interest” and “operational/managerial control.” These terms are vague and undefined and not easily understandable to consumers.
  • Failed to organize information to highlight patterns. The GAO report found that “the presentation of ownership information on Care Compare does not allow consumers to easily identify relationships and patterns related to quality across nursing homes under common ownership.”
  • Did not explain the purpose and value of ownership information on Care Compare. Nowhere on Care Compare is there an explanation of how the type of ownership may result in worse care. This absence of an explanation may result in consumers overlooking its importance.
  • Did not disclose the key strengths and limitations of the data. This failure is significant because, as noted by the GAO, nursing home ownership data is often incomplete and inaccurate. CMS admitted in the report that the ownership structures for some nursing homes are so nebulous that they are sometimes unable to ascertain who owns a nursing home. Despite this fact, CMS does not disclose the unreliability of the data to the public on Care Compare.

The GAO report made two recommendations:

  • Use plain language to define key terms in the ownership section of Care Compare.
  • Organize ownership information by providing consumers easy access to a list of all facilities under common ownership, their respective star ratings, and a distribution of star ratings across nursing homes with common ownership to allow consumers to examine quality patterns across such facilities.

CMS concurred with both recommendations. Additionally, the Biden Administration announced last year that it would address the issue of inaccurate and incomplete ownership information and take steps to make ownership data available to consumers. The GAO report noted that CMS had taken some steps to release more ownership data, but CMS admitted this data was for researchers and not consumers. However, CMS has promised more action to ensure access to residents and their families.

Consumer Voice has long advocated for all consumers to have access to reliable and relevant ownership information for individual nursing homes with care quality information for all nursing homes under common ownership. When deciding on a nursing home, residents and their families must have access to ownership data that is reliable and accurate. It is currently impossible to easily access care quality information across nursing homes with common owners. Further, until CMS ensures that ownership information for all nursing homes is accurate, the system's utility, as a whole, will be undermined.

While the GAO report finds fault with CMS’ current system of providing nursing home ownership information, Consumer Voice has been encouraged by the steps the agency has taken over the past year. Nevertheless, CMS has significant work to do to realize the goals announced by President Biden and laid out in the GAO report.

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