Increased competition is coming to the ambulatory surgery center accreditation business.
HCFA has granted "deemed" status to two organizations that accredit ambulatory surgery centers. The status means that centers accredited by either group automatically qualify to treat Medicare patients without undergoing a separate inspection by federal health regulators.
The deemed status for both groups took effect on Dec. 19.
The two groups are the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., and the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, based in Skokie, Ill.
Under the deemed status procedures, the two accrediting agencies will conduct regular triennial surveys of surgery centers, and surgery centers will have to agree to allow random "validation" inspections by federal regulators. The validation inspections are designed to ensure that the centers would meet federal standards.
In announcing the deemed status determination in the Federal Register, HHS said there were 2,219 Medicare-certified ambulatory surgery centers in the United States. In fiscal 1996, which ended Sept. 30, the government conducted 180 initial surveys and 115 recertification surveys.
The number of ambulatory surgery centers increased 25% from 1993 to 1996, yet the portion of centers surveyed declined steadily, due to budget reasons, HHS noted.
HHS said its budget has been increased 7% for surveys in 1997, but "the increase is insufficient to meet the survey demand." Therefore it's opening the gate to other agencies.
With deemed status, both groups anticipate a jump in the number of centers seeking their services.
The JCAHO has accredited about 200 freestanding surgery centers. The Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care has accredited 300 centers.