The federal government has released a new five-star rating system for home health agencies, hoping to bring clarity to a fast-growing but fragmented corner of the medical industry where it’s often difficult to distinguish good from bad. Medicare applied the new quality measure to more than 9,000 agencies based on how quickly visits began and how often patients improved while under their care. Nearly half received average scores, with the government sparingly doling out top and bottom ratings. The star ratings come as home health agencies play an increasingly important role in caring for the elderly. Last year, 3.4 million Medicare beneficiaries received home health services, with nurses, aides, and physical and occupational therapists treating them in the home. Medicare spends about $18 billion on the home health benefit, which provides skilled services that must be authorized by a doctor, not housekeeping care that some elderly pay for privately. For both the government and patients, Medicare’s home health visits are one of the least expensive ways to provide care, and the system has been especially susceptible to fraud. Assessing quality is often challenging for patients and their doctors, who must authorize the visits, often just as patients are leaving the hospital.
For the article from Kaiser Health News, click here.