Accountable Care Organizations: The case for “embracing” down-side risk

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/accountable-care-organizations-case-embracing-risk-thomas-campanella/

The picture above is not exactly on point, but who can resist a little boy “embracing” a bear.

Per the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) are groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who come together voluntarily to give coordinated high quality care to the Medicare patients they serve (and hopefully saves money in the process).

ACOs are a product of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). The theory behind ACOs was based on the recognition that we have a fragmented healthcare system that contributes to poor quality and higher healthcare costs.

Hospital-based health systems aggressively jumped on the ACO bandwagon starting with the passage of the ACA and, in the process, established relationships with physicians, ancillary providers, long-term care organizations, etc. Many times these Health Systems acquired (especially physicians) rather than established collaborative agreements with these community providers.

As a result of these acquisitions and collaborations, the hospital-based ACO and, in turn, the parent health systems became an even greater force in their communities. They were also in a better position to negotiate with payers because of the increased leverage they had as a result of their enhanced local provider presence. 

This also had a negative impact on health systems, since it did increase their fixed costs and made them less flexible to respond to competitors of different forms, especially in the outpatient and home setting.

Have ACOs lived up to their promise?

There have been many articles and research studies on the value of ACOs to determine if they have lived up to their promise of increased quality and cost-efficiencies. The consensus of research seems to be that ACOs have had a positive impact on quality, especially with regard to continuity of care for individuals with chronic diseases.

The jury is still out on the cost savings side, especially for hospital-based ACOs. 

Recently CMS has required that hospital-based ACOs to take on both up-side and downside risk.

Historically, ACOs have had the ability to take on only upside risk (or rewards), but at a lower percentage of potential gain vs. what they would have received if they were also willing to take on downside risk.

As I have noted in prior blogs, I am believer in risk/value-based contracting with downside financial exposure for hospital systems. I support this approach, not in a vindictive way, but because I want hospitals to survive and prosper in this new world of healthcare.

I also believe that if we are to successfully evolve from a “sick-care” system to a true “health” system, hospitals need to enter into the appropriate payer contracts that reward them for keeping patients healthy, not just for providing additional services.

Breaking down the silos inside and outside the walls of the hospital

I have worked in the healthcare industry in a variety of sectors since the early 1980s and during that period of time, I constantly heard the refrain about the need to break down the silos of healthcare both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.

The fee-for-service payment methodologies that exist today “the more you do the more you make” creates no “real” incentives to break down these silos. ACOs that have downside risk exposure along with payment methodologies such at capitation and bundled payments have the real ability to break down these silos.

As long as the majority of payments from payers is based on the fee-for-service payment methodologies, hospitals will have no “real” incentives to break down the silos that prevent value-based care from being provided. It also does not provide any “real” incentives to keep people healthy.

Per the dictionary, “Accountability refers to an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions. … When roles are clear and people are held accountable, work is accomplished efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, constructive change and learning is possible when accountability is the norm.”

While this definition was not met for ACOs, it really does apply and was ultimately the goal of the original drafters of the ACO concept. ACOs must be held accountable, and only through downside risk along with appropriate rewards will that occur.

If we want to achieve our goals of a value-base healthcare system as well as an overall healthier society, we need to create the proper incentives in our payment methodologies. As I have stated repeatedly in past healthcare blogs, “a healthcare system is shaped by what you pay for and how you pay for it.” The “how you pay for it” gets to the heart of the “risk” linkage with regard to hospital-based ACOs.

All of this is not to say that physician-led ACOs should not have risk but, given their size, these independent practices are much more financially vulnerable. Payment models for physician-led ACOs need to recognize the current value they are bringing to the ACO world, and consider ways to gradually add a risk component.

Hospital-based ACOs are looking to exit (or walk away from) Medicare Shared Savings Programs if required to take on downside risk

Per a recent article (April 26, 2019), “Just over half of accountable care organizations (ACOs) said they would consider leaving (or walking away from) the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) if required to take on more downside risk, revealed a study published in Health Affairs.

Thirty-two percent of ACOs said they are extremely or very likely to leave, and 19 percent believe they are moderately likely to leave.

The results also showed that there were significant differences in responses from physician-based ACOs and hospital-based ACOs.

“Approximately two-thirds of physician-based ACO respondents reported that they were likely to remain in the program if required to accept downside risk, compared with only about one-third of hospital-based ACOs,” the team said.

“This reflects the fact that physician-based ACOs have performed better, and a higher proportion of these ACOs have earned shared savings, than hospital-based ACOs. Physician-based ACOs have generated substantial savings by reducing spending for both inpatient and outpatient hospital services, which has not been true for hospital-based ACOs.”

Hospital based ACOs and well as hospital systems in general are doing themselves “no favors” by not accepting risk. 

By entering into “risk-based” contracts, hospital systems will create the appropriate incentives to address their supply-chain costs. Hospitals would also find it easier to engage physicians in addressing the cost side of the equation if physicians also understood and embraced the risk-based payment methodologies.

Under risk arrangements, hospitals would also have even more motivation to develop strategic relations with their vendors (medical device, etc.), such as what the auto industry does with their suppliers.

These risk arrangements will also allow hospital systems to be better prepared for the new world of healthcare. In this new world there will be winners and losers and different types of competitors, especially in the outpatient and home setting.

As we have also noted in prior blogs, hospital inpatient admissions are decreasing and patients have a higher acuity. Hospital inpatient care has been evolving to some form of a center of excellence. As hospitals look to find ways to expand their revenue opportunities they should be looking to bundle services for prospective patients and employers. These bundled services would and should have a risk-component tied to them.

Accepting risk-based contractual arrangements with payers is also better than competing in the retail marketplace where hospitals are much more vulnerable to lower priced regional and national competitors, especially as the result of the increased push for transparency.

Payers: Medicaid Managed Care, Medicare Advantage, Commercial Carriers, Self-insured employers should be pushing risk contracts. 

As noted in this article in Health Affairs, there are two ways employers should push ACO arrangements to evolve:

Financial Risk

“As experts jest, if ACO providers don’t take on the financial risk of caring for their population of patients (for example, only shared savings), it is like “vegan barbeque…or gin and tonic without the gin.” Payers’ ability to change provider behavior is likely to be negligible if they only reward providers with small bonuses for effective care a year after the fact. Greater financial accountability would encourage providers to promote preventive care and look for ways to cut waste.

In fact, without downside risk, health systems may take advantage of the ACO model. Experts argue that health systems may take on the practice of “ACO squatting” (that is, they form ACOs, take on patients, but avoid looking for ways to cut waste, reduce total cost of care, and improve quality) and that “a migration to two-sided risk for ACOs…after a certain number of years, so that there is a cost [downside financial risk]…would help to address this issue.”

Alignment of Patient Incentives

“Providers would be loath to assume financial risk for a patient population without the ability to manage their care. Commercial payers can modify patients’ out-of-pocket spending to encourage them to seek care only within the ACO. For example, by treating the ACO as a narrow network, the payer could pair it with a benefit design that offers lower premiums and minimal out-of-pocket spending for care from an ACO provider but little to no coverage for care sought outside of the ACO.

If the vast majority of patient visits occur within the ACO, it might be more likely to stay within budget because those providers can coordinate care and reduce redundancies. In addition, the ACO leadership can communicate with ACO providers about the cost and quality implications of their care decisions.”

If Medicare Advantage and Medicaid Managed Care Plans are not pushing for risk arrangements with Hospital-based ACOs or health systems, and these Plans continue to rely on some form of fee-for-service, then the true payers, Medicare and the individual states, should be reevaluating their own payment formulas with these entities. The payment formulas maybe too rich and do not provide enough incentives for these Plans to enter into risk arrangements with the above providers.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

If you have been a reader of my blogs, you know I like sprinkling in health economic concepts into them. It is natural for individuals and other entities to make decisions based on their own self-interest.By not embracing risk in a manageable, but continuous fashion, hospital-based ACOs as well as hospital systems are sacrificing their long-term self-interest for immediate gain.

Active purchasers of healthcare services will continue to demand value in the marketplace, and for hospital-based ACOs and hospital system to meet this demand they need to break down the silos which can only be done effectively by embracing risk-based contracting tied to appropriate rewards.

Finally, we, as a society, are recognizing the need to focus our attention on population health, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also represents the best uses of our resources. We will not be able to achieve our goal of population health unless hospitals fully embrace it. One true way to expedite the transition to population health is for hospitals and ACOs payment methodologies to incorporate in their reimbursement contracts the appropriate risk/rewards that incent them to keep people healthy both inside and outside the walls of the hospital.

 

 

 

Trump’s Next Phase on Health Care: Everywhere and Nowhere

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-07-09/trump-health-care-reform-he-s-everywhere-and-nowhere

A scattershot and at times contradictory approach to fixing the system is impeding progress.

A hodgepodge of news this week is telling the confusing and contradictory story of President Donald Trump’s efforts to change American health care.  

On Monday, a federal judge blocked the administration’s efforts to force drugmakers to disclose the often astronomical list prices of medicines in their TV ads. It was intended to shame pharma into lowering prices, and would have been the first of the Trump administration’s major drug-cost initiatives to actually take effect.

On Tuesday, oral arguments were set for a Department of Justice-backed case that could wipe out the Affordable Care Act. 

Wednesday will reportedly see the president reveal an ambitious set of initiatives intended to rein in spending on kidney costs. 

The kidney initiative is among the administration’s better notions, along with its effort to index some drug costs covered by Medicare to the lower prices available abroad. Yet even when the administration lands on a good idea in health care, it seems to get in its own way. The Trump-backed ACA lawsuit, for example, would directly undermine the kidney initiative and price-indexing plan. And while the president has a variety of other proposals in the works – from an effort to pass drug discounts directly to consumers to a plan to force hospitals to make their pricing transparent – many could be exposed to the kind of legal risks that killed the drug-ad initiative. It’s all part of a scattershot and often incoherent approach that isn’t as effective as it could be.

Take the kidney-care push: this area of treatment is costly in part because the current system incentivizes expensive care at dialysis centers that are largely run by two companies: DaVita Inc. and  Fresenius Medical Care AG. (Peter Grauer, the chairman of Bloomberg LP, is the lead independent director at DaVita.) The Department of Health and Human Services reportedly wants to change that dynamic with new payment models intended to shift patients to more cost-effective treatment at home. At least part of the administration’s ability to implement those models comes from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Innovation Center, which was created by the ACA and is threatened by the lawsuit.

The contradictions don’t end there. People with end-stage kidney disease are covered by Medicare, so the lawsuit wouldn’t strip their coverage. However, the administration’s plan reportedly emphasizes intervening before people get to the point where they need dialysis or transplants. Killing the ACA is at direct odds with that goal. It would see millions lose insurance coverage, would eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions like chronic kidney disease, and crimp access to preventative care.

Though it is a long shot, the court case demonstrates the administration’s inconsistency in health care. Just about every health initiative would be harmed by the disruption that would result if this lawsuit succeeds, especially considering that the administration doesn’t have a replacement plan. If it were serious about keeping people off of dialysis or curing HIV, it would oppose this suit and stop other ongoing efforts that harm the ACA’s individual market and Medicaid.

The administration hasn’t detailed an ACA alternative because its previous effort to pass one was a political disaster that helped Democrats seize control of the House of Representatives in 2018. Instead, its health-care efforts have largely been confined to executive orders and rule-making. That approach narrows the scope of what the administration can accomplish, and comes with significant risks. If a federal judge thinks that forcing the disclosure of drug prices in ads is an overreach, there’s clearly a chance that the administration’s more ambitious plans will also have issues.

I’m rooting for the kidney effort. It targets a real problem and could have an impact, depending on the details. I’d be more optimistic about the plan’s chances if it were part of a cohesive set of policies that had Congressional backing, rather than the current jumble. 

How much does Medicare spend on prescription drugs?

https://usafacts.org/reports/facts-in-focus/medicare-part-d-prescription-drug-cost?utm_source=EM&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=medicaredive

Image result for drug spending

As of 2017, the government now spends more on prescription drugs than private insurers or individuals out-of-pocket. Medicare payments alone account for 30% of the $333 billion spent on prescription drugs. In 2005, Medicare was responsible for just 2% of prescription spending.

Medicare’s expanding role at the pharmacy came with the 2006 creation of Medicare Part D, a program that offers supplemental prescription drug coverage plans to Medicare enrollees. The federal government tracks all claims paid for through Medicare Part D.

Sifting through the data allows one to see how spending on drug brands and drug types has changed for Medicare.

The graphs below show how spending has changed. Spending per claim, or simply the cost of a prescription, have gone up in drugs used for cancer treatments or diabetes. Meanwhile, prescription costs have gone down for blood pressure drugs, even as total claims for those drugs go up.

During 2017, Medicare Part D beneficiaries took out 1.4 billion prescription drug claims on 2,878 different brands of prescription drugs. The total spend, before rebates and discounts kick in, was $152 billion.

All those figures are up from 2013, when Medicare prescription drug spending stood at $102 billion on 1.2 billion claims on 2,294 different drugs. Between 2013 and 2017, prescription drug spending increased 15%, claims increased 18% and spending per claim increased 29% from $81.02 per claim to $104.56 per claim

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services documents drug spending for three programs: Medicare Part B (drugs administered by health professionals), Medicare Part D (prescription drugs patients generally administer themselves) and Medicaid (prescription drugs).

The interactive graphic below shows Part D total spending (combining out-of-pocket costs with Medicare payments) and claims from 2013 to 2017.

 

SUPREME COURT TAKES UP $12B DISPUTE OVER ACA RISK CORRIDOR PAYMENTS

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/finance/supreme-court-takes-12b-dispute-over-aca-risk-corridor-payments

U.S. Supreme Court

The justices agreed to hear arguments over whether Congress can pass riders that withhold funds in contravention of the relevant law’s intent without actually repealing the relevant law.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

The health plans argue the ACA’s mandate to issue risk corridor payments could not be repealed through an appropriations rider.

The approximately $12 billion in payments at issue in this dispute are for three benefit years: 2014-2016.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up three consolidated cases from health plans challenging Congress’ refusal to authorize $12 billion in risk-mitigation payments under the Affordable Care Act.

The cases—which were brought by Maine Community Health Options, Moda Health Plan Inc., and Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Co.—argue that the ACA’s risk corridor program obligated Health and Human Services to make payments that the law intended “to induce insurer participation in the health insurance exchanges by mitigating some of the uncertainty associated with insuring formerly uninsured customers.”

Following the 2014 midterm election, lawmakers on Capitol Hill enacted an appropriations law for fiscal year 2015 that “would potentially allot money to HHS to cover” any such payments for the 2014 benefit year, but the law included a rider that required HHS to maintain the budget neutrality of the risk corridor program, the health plans said in their petition.

Because the amounts collected under the risk corridor program for 2014 “came nowhere close to what the government owed to insurers,” the government paid out only 12.6% of the total owed for the year, prorating the funds it owed to each insurer, the health plans wrote.

Similar riders were included in appropriations bills for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. But HHS used the funds it collected from benefit years 2015 and 2016 to further pay what it owed from the 2014 benefit year, making no payments for the 2015 and 2016 benefit years, the health plans wrote. (The program ended after three years.)

The health plans proposed two questions in the petition for a writ of certiorari for the justices to consider, but the justices agreed to hear argument only on the first: “Given the ‘cardinal rule’ disfavoring implied repeals—which applies with ‘especial force’ to appropriations acts and requires that repeal not be found unless the later enactment is ‘irreconcilable’ with the former—can an appropriations rider whose text bars the agency’s use of certain funds to pay a statutory obligation, but does not repeal or amend the statutory obligation, and is thus not inconsistent with it, nonetheless be held to impliedly repeal the obligation by elevating the perceived ‘intent’ of the rider (drawn from unilluminating legislative history) above its text, and the text of the underlying statute?”

In its response to the health plans’ petition, the U.S. government argued that a Government Accountability Office report identified only two possible sources of funding for the risk corridor payments: (1) the funds collected by HHS under the program itself, and (2) any lump-sum appropriation to manage certain Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services programs. By enacting the appropriations laws as it did, Congress said that only the first funding source would be allowed, the response states.

America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) President and CEO Matt Eyles said in a statement that insurers need stability from the government.

“Millions of Americans rely on the individual and small group markets for their coverage and care. Health insurance providers are committed to serving these patients and consumers, working with the federal government to deliver affordable coverage and access to quality care,” Eyles said. “The Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case recognizes how important it is for American businesses, including health insurance providers, to be able to rely on the federal government as a fair and reliable partner. Strong, stable and predictable partnerships between the private and the public sector are an essential part of our nation’s economy, and our industry looks forward to having this matter heard before the Court.”

The justices allotted one hour for oral argument on the dispute.

 

 

 

Wonky Supreme Court Ruling on Medicare DSH Formula to Affect More Than Money

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/strategy/wonky-supreme-court-ruling-medicare-dsh-formula-affect-more-money?spMailingID=15780781&spUserID=MTg2ODM1MDE3NTU1S0&spJobID=1660471453&spReportId=MTY2MDQ3MTQ1MwS2

Moving forward, the government will have to complete notice-and-comment rulemaking for a broader set of its decisions.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court kicks the dispute back to the District Court level. What happens next is unclear.

Beyond the money at stake, this case increases the rulemaking burden on HHS and CMS, though the extent of that burden is disputed.

Hospitals that treat high numbers of low-income patients secured a big win this week at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seven of the justices agreed that officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stepped out of line when they rejiggered a Medicare reimbursement formula for disproportionate share hospitals (DSH) five years ago without a formal notice-and-comment process.

The decision carries implications well beyond the money hospitals say they are owed.

“It’s a big deal for the hospitals, obviously,” says Helen R. Pfister, JD, a New York–based partner with Manatt Health.

By the government’s estimates, the dispute implicates $3-4 billion in payments over nine years. That’s how much more the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would have paid in DSH reimbursements, had the formula not been changed, according to court records.

“But I think it’s also a big deal in terms of the fact that the Supreme Court has clearly indicated that, going forward, CMS is going to have to do notice-and-comment rulemaking for a much more expansive set of agency decisions than they thought and argued in this case that they would need to do,” Pfister adds.

Precisely how much of the routine work completed by HHS and CMS will be affected by this broader take on notice-and-comment rulemaking remains to be seen. While some stakeholders have raised concerns the added burden could stifle the government’s work, others contend any inconvenience imposed will be both manageable and beneficial.

In any case, the impact of Monday’s decision will flow along two distinct paths, affecting not only hospital finances but also, for better or worse, the way HHS and CMS operate.

What’s Next, Procedurally?

In 2016, nine hospitals led by Allina Health Services lost their case against HHS at the U.S. District Court in D.C., where a judge ruled that notice-and-comment rulemaking wasn’t required. In 2017, however, three judges at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision and sent the dispute back for further proceedings.

In 2018, attorneys for HHS asked the Supreme Court to review the appellate decision. Now that the justices have affirmed the Circuit Court’s decision, the parties have up to seven days to file a status report at the District Court level on where the case stands, according to court records. That filing, expected by early next week, could shed light on where things are headed procedurally.

Pfister says she doesn’t think anyone knows for the time being whether the government will automatically revise DSH payments for the affected fiscal years, pursue another round of notice-and-comment rulemaking, or take some other course of action in response to the Supreme Court ruling.

And the parties themselves aren’t saying much. When asked about the agency’s plans, a CMS spokesperson told HealthLeaders on Wednesday that the agency is still reviewing the decision. Allina referred questions to its law firm, which declined to comment.

Beyond the nine plaintiff hospitals involved in this week’s Supreme Court decision, there are hundreds of plaintiffs suing HHS on similar grounds. Dozens of follow-on lawsuits have been consolidated into a single docket pending before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Parties to that proceeding have up to 14 days to file a status report in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, according to court records.

An Overly Burdensome Decision?

The government’s attorneys had issued dire warnings about the potential consequences of the decision the Supreme Court ultimately reached.

The notion that CMS must go through a notice-and-comment process for the sort of routine process at issue in this case could “substantially undermine effective administration of the Medicare program” because it would apply not just to DSH formula calculations but to “nearly every instruction” the agency gives to its contractors as well, U.S. Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco argued on HHS’ behalf.

Pfister largely rejects the government’s dire take on the decision’s impact.

“I think that might have been a little bit hyperbolic,” she says.

But other stakeholders outside the government have taken the Supreme Court’s ruling as a troubling sign of uncertainty to come.

“This is a frightening decision, that throws a lot of doubt on the validity of thousands of pages of Medicare sub-regulatory guidance,” Adam Finkelstein, JD, MPH, counsel with Manatt Health and a former health insurance specialist with the CMS Innovation Center, wrote in a tweet.

Stephanie A. Kennan, senior vice president of federal public affairs for McGuire Woods Consulting in Washington, D.C., tells HealthLeaders that she thinks the government’s argument “is somewhat overblown.” Officials should be able to manage any added burden from this ruling, even if it slows them down a bit, she says.

“I think it may mean they cannot move as quickly on some policies as they would like to,” Kennan says.

A Boon to Public Input?

The benefits of a more-transparent process justify any added hassle that may stem from having to go through a mandatory comment process more often as a result of this decision, Kennan says.

“In this case, they have to do 60-day comment periods, which can seem like an eternity if you want to keep the process moving, regardless of whether you’re the agency or a stakeholder,” she says. “The transparency is probably worth the 60 days.”

But others reject the notion that this decision should be seen as balancing effective governance with transparency.

“Allina isn’t a vindication of the importance of public participation in agency decision-making. It’s a testimonial to the heedlessness of lawyers who impose silly procedural rules on an administrative state they only dimly understand,” Nicholas Bagley, JD, a law professor at the University of Michigan who teaches on administrative law and health law, wrote in a series of tweets.

“Bear in mind,” he added, “that CMS is a tiny, beleaguered agency … To further encumber it will make Medicare more capricious, not less, as staffers tend to senseless procedures instead of doing their jobs.”

Moving forward, HHS and CMS will continue to have discretion to determine whether to go through notice-and-comment with a given action, Pfister says. The difference now, she says, is that there’s a stronger incentive for government officials to cover themselves; otherwise, another case like Allina’s could pull them into another round of prolonged litigation.

 

 

Government to start posting list of troubled nursing homes

https://www.apnews.com/c8e1e70253fb405e8fe13cd7b2eda70f

In this Oct. 26, 2018, file photo, Sen.Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks to reporters in the studio of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. For years the federal government for years has kept under wraps the names of hundreds of nursing homes around the country found to have serious health, safety or sanitary problems. Lawmakers say the silence calls into question the government’s commitment to families going through the difficult process of finding a nursing home for a loved one. The secrecy began to crack Monday when two U.S. senators from Pennsylvania released the government’s list.

In a turnabout, the government said Wednesday it will start posting a list of some 400 troubled nursing homes , days after senators released the “secret” document along with a report questioning oversight of poor-quality facilities.

Dr. Kate Goodrich, chief medical officer with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the agency soon will post the list and update it regularly. She didn’t set a date.

“We are working actively to get the list posted,” Goodrich told reporters, saying that attention focused on the issue “has amplified a very important national dialogue on nursing home quality.”

The Associated Press reported Monday that Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., had found that conditions at the 400 facilities were “indistinguishable” from those at about 80 poor-performing nursing homes that are publicly identified by the government and undergo an additional level of inspections.

In a statement, Casey welcomed the commitment to post the list, but said more work is needed to make sure the government’s program to improve poor-performing nursing homes is running properly and has enough financing.

About 1.3 million Americans live in nursing homes, with more than 15,700 such facilities nationwide. The troubled nursing homes that Casey and Toomey identified are part of the government’s Special Focus Facility program, representing about 3 percent of all homes.

Budget cuts appear to be contributing to the problem by reducing money available for focused inspections, according to documents and interviews.

Agency officials say they currently only have enough money for 88 slots in the special focus program. Those facilities are publicly identified. Consumers can spot them on the government’s Nursing Home Compare website by looking for an icon that resembles a traffic “caution” sign.

But a larger group of some 400 nursing homes are designated as “candidates” for the program, and their names have not been publicly disclosed. The agency says that’s now about to change.

It pushed back against the suggestion it was keeping secrets, saying its nursing home website uses starred ratings that allow consumers to readily identify troubled facilities. Nursing homes with five stars have much better than average quality and nursing homes with a single star are considered to be much below average. Nationwide, there are about 2,900 of the latter.

Goodrich said starred ratings are the best way for consumers to get a sense of quality, but the senators’ report concluded that the ratings can be misleading. For example, nearly 3 in 10 of the 400 “candidate” nursing homes with problems had two stars out of five overall.

The government spends about $400 million a year on all Medicare-related inspections, and Goodrich said most of that goes for nursing home checks. The Trump administration has asked Congress for nearly $45 million more.