The Trump administration is reversing guidelines put in place under President Barack Obama and is scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or place them in grave risk of injury.
The shift in the Medicare program’s penalty protocols was requested by the nursing home industry. The American Health Care Association, the industry’s main trade group, has complained that under Obama, federal inspectors focused excessively on catching wrongdoing rather than helping nursing homes improve.
Since 2013, nearly 6,500 nursing homes — 4 of every 10 — have been cited at least once for a serious violation, federal records show. Medicare has fined two-thirds of those homes. Common citations include failing to protect residents from avoidable accidents, neglect, mistreatment and bedsores.
The new guidelines discourage regulators from levying fines in some situations, even when they have resulted in a resident’s death. The guidelines will also probably result in lower fines for many facilities. The change in policy aligns with Trump’s promise to reduce bureaucracy, regulation and government intervention in business.
The average fine in recent years has been $33,453, but 531 nursing homes amassed combined federal fines above $100,000, records show. In 2016, Congress increased the fines to factor in several years of inflation that had not been accounted for previously.
The new rules have been instituted gradually throughout the year.
In October, CMS discouraged its regional offices from levying fines, even in the most serious health violations, if the error was a “one-time mistake.” The centers said that intentional disregard for residents’ health and safety or systemic errors should still merit fines.
A July memo from CMS discouraged the directors of state agencies that survey nursing homes from issuing daily fines for violations that began before an inspection, favoring one-time fines instead. Daily fines remain the recommended approach for major violations discovered during an inspection.
In November, the Trump administration exempted nursing homes that violate eight new safety rules from penalties for 18 months. Homes must still follow the rules, which are intended, among other things, to reduce the overuse of psychotropic drugs and to ensure that every home has adequate resources to assist residents with major psychological problems.
In June, CMS rescinded another Obama administration action that banned nursing homes from pre-emptively requiring residents to submit to arbitration to settle disputes rather than going to court.