WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a hearing to highlight the need for increased transparency and stronger enforcement of nursing home quality. Kohl announced a forthcoming bill crafted jointly with Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) to allow consumers timely access to accurate information on nursing homes, including the results of government inspections, the number of staff employed at a home, and information about the home's ownership. CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems offered testimony at the hearing on the Special Focus Facility Program created by CMS to deal with nursing homes that exhibit a consistent history of providing poor care to residents. Kohl asked Weems about the significant move toward transparency that CMS will be making on December 1, when the agency plans to disclose the names of the facilities taking part in the Special Focus Facility Program. Disclosing the program participants, considered to be the worst
of the worst nursing homes, is a provision in the bill that Senators Kohl and Grassley plan to introduce in coming weeks.
"It is in everybody's best interest to let consumers know which nursing homes repeatedly demonstrate deficiencies and violate government standards. Those homes are obviously not doing their jobs," said Chairman Kohl. "Often the only way to ensure the improvement of any entity is to bring its failings to light. I honestly believe that more nursing homes will come back into compliance for good if they have the court of public opinion and the power of market forces as encouragement."
The joint legislation will also strengthen the government's system of enforcement. Under the current system, nursing homes that are not providing quality care can escape penalty from the government while they slip in and out of compliance with federal regulations. The bill will also ensure that regulators are able to intervene quickly in order to protect the safety of residents. Senator Grassley, who boasts a distinguished record on nursing home oversight, testified before the committee on these issues and echoed the assertion that implementing increased transparency is vital if nursing home care is to be improved.
The Aging Committee heard recommendations from national experts, organized labor, and representatives of the nursing home industry on the importance of transparency in the areas of inspection results and staffing levels. Support was offered for the policy under development by Senators Kohl and Grassley that would require the federal government's website for nursing homes,
Nursing Home Compare, to display accurate, timely information in a format that can be easily understood by consumers across the country.
Arvid Muller, a representative from SEIU, spoke on the need for disclosure of ownership and subsidiary operations of nursing home chains and facilities that have been purchased by private equity firms. Currently, state and federal regulators have no easy way to identify which entity is responsible for providing good care and making key financial decisions about how services will be provided at these homes. The aforementioned legislation would require nursing homes to report their status of ownership and name any affiliated entities-information that is often not known by Medicare and Medicaid today. Muller also shared with the committee SEIU's analysis of recent trends in quality deficiencies nationwide, which shows that quality problems have increased nationwide in nursing homes during the past three years. Representatives for both the for-profit and non-profit nursing home industries were on hand to offer testimony.
Chairman Kohl's bill with Senator Grassley, the Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act of 2007, is the most recent example of policy put forth by his office that utilizes the powerful tool of disclosure as a means to educate and empower consumers. In September, Kohl introduced the
Physician Payments Sunshine Act of 2007
along with Senator Grassley to require manufacturers of pharmaceutical drugs, devices, and biologics to disclose the amount of money they give to doctors through payments, gifts, honoraria, travel, and other means. Further, at an Aging hearing last month, Kohl announced the
Defined Contribution Fee Disclosure Act of 2007
, a forthcoming bill with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) to require complete transparency of 401(k) fees to both employers and participants.