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New Legislation Would Crack Down on Poorly Performing Nursing Homes

Bipartisan measure expands facilities that would get enhanced scrutiny

spinner image Nursing home resident getting his temperature taken by a female nurse
Boston Globe/Getty Images

A greater number of long-term care facilities that have a history of safety problems and other resident care issues would be closely scrutinized and required to correct deficiencies, under a bill introduced Tuesday by Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican.

The measure would expand the national Special Focus Facility (SFF) program, which identifies nursing homes in every state that have consistently failed to meet federal safety and care requirements. These nursing homes are typically inspected every six months and, if the deficiencies are not corrected, the facilities are subject to enforcement that may include financial penalties and could potentially be ejected from the Medicare and/or Medicaid programs. Medicaid covers about 60 percent of nursing home residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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Even though 446 facilities across the nation have been identified as eligible for the closer oversight of nursing homes through the Special Focus Facility program, only 84 facilities actually receive it. Under the legislation, those 446 nursing homes would be included and would not only receive extra scrutiny, but also technical and education assistance to help them fix problems. The bill also would rename the SFF program the “Low-Rated Facility Program.”

This legislation, the Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2020, is being introduced as 40 percent of all COVID-related deaths have occurred among nursing home and other long-term care facility residents and staff, accounting for more than 91,000 deaths.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the ongoing importance of safeguarding the quality of care, quality of life, health, safety and well-being of nursing home residents and staff,” said Bill Sweeney, AARP senior vice president of government affairs. “This bill would identify and increase transparency around nursing homes with a history of serious quality issues. The legislation also includes vital consumer protections to help ensure appropriate oversight and accountability for nursing homes.” AARP sent a letter to Casey and Toomey on Tuesday supporting their legislation.

The bill builds on the successful efforts of Casey and Toomey to get the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to make public the list of nursing homes that have enough problems that they qualify for the Special Focus Facility program. The new legislation also requires CMS to include information about low-rated nursing homes on its Medicare Compare website that helps consumers make decisions about which health care facilities and providers to choose.

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