Over the last few years, CMS has been working to re-frame its quality measures and programs. Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic pause all that work, it sidelined it completely.
Soon after emergency orders for COVID-19 went into effect in March, CMS announced it was suspending reporting for its long-standing quality programs for the first two quarters of 2020. Providers welcomed the news, saying they were far too busy preparing for or addressing a surge of COVID cases to deal with quality measurement.
What the next few years look like for quality programs is uncertain. CMS recently said regarding the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program that it may not hand out penalties next year if the data is too unreliable.
The fact that quality measurement programs were set aside during the pandemic is showing stakeholders that the need to revamp quality oversight is more essential than ever. “We were all caught by surprise that a lot of the quality measures we had in place weren’t up to the task of dealing with the pandemic,” said Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, CEO of the National Quality Forum.
“So now it’s time to take a step back and make sure we have good measures of health system readiness and make sure that is applied to areas like rural health and telehealth.”
In addition to reassessing the quality programs, the impact of waivers on care quality and safety are also worth examining, said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association. “It gives us a real opportunity to … see which of these really make a difference on outcomes for patients and which don’t,” she said.