Senator’s Letter Raises Concerns About How CMS Fights Nursing Home Abuse

A U.S. Senator is calling on federal regulators to provide more information about how their agency plans to address growing concerns over nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect in the United States. 

Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance, sent a letter (PDF) to Secretary Thomas E. Price, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on September 15, calling for more information on the department’s efforts to combat problems at nursing homes nationwide.

The letter came following an “Early Alert” (PDF) by the DHHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) on August 24, warning of potential abuse and neglect in nursing homes that are federally funded by Medicare. The report found 134 injuries of Medicare beneficiaries at skilled nursing facilities in 2016, which may have been the result of negligent care or abusive actions, but only 96 of those incidents were disclosed to the authorities.

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The report raised concerns that many incidents at facilities that receive Medicare funding are going unreported, despite mandatory reporting requirements.

The OIG recommended that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a division of DHHS, put in place procedures that compare emergency room Medicare claims with claims for nursing home services, in order to identify incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect. The OIG also called for the CMS to get the authority from DHHS to impose fines and other punishments on facilities with abuse and neglect problems.

Senator Hatch’s letter asked the DHHS to provide further information on how it was pursuing those goals to help his Committee evaluate how it can assist in those efforts.

Specifically, Hatch asked whether the agency plans to reevaluate how it ensures elder abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities are being identified and reported. He also asked why it appears that DHHS has not yet given more enforcement power to CMS as the report recommended.

The letter also asked what the agency plans to do about the incidents that were not reported to local law enforcement last year, and what actions Congress could take to assist DHHS and law enforcement to help prevent future abuse in federally funded nursing homes.

“As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I have the responsibility to oversee the Medicaid and Medicare programs and am troubled by these allegations,” Senator Hatch wrote. “As such, I hope that we can work together towards a solution to protect seniors and prevent future occurrences of abuse or neglect.”

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