The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations failed to spot "serious deficiencies" at many of the hospitals it certified, and the accrediting agency should be subject to greater federal oversight, the Government Accountability Office said in a new report. In a sample of 500 hospitals surveyed from 2000 to 2002, state regulators cited 241 as in violation of Medicare requirements. The JCAHO identified violations at 167 of those hospitals, the GAO said in its 50-page report. "The Joint Commission is supposed to be the gold standard, not a rubber stamp," Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in releasing the results of the report. Grassley said he and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation that would give the CMS oversight authority over hospital accreditation and the ability to "restrict or remove the JCAHO's authority if a problem is detected." Grassley said he would like to see the bill pass Congress this year but was uncertain it would survive the committee process.
Responding to the GAO report in a July 12 letter to Comptroller General David Walker, the JCAHO said it did not object to improved accountability but took "great exception to the fact that the GAO arrives at this conclusion based upon a flawed study methodology and erroneous, alarming statistics that seriously mislead the public." In a statement today, the JCAHO also said the GAO report mischaracterizes the commission's new accreditation process and does not put the agency's role in making hospitals the "safest healthcare settings in the nation" in proper perspective. -- by Jeff Tieman