WHITE HOUSE says it has no plans to ease regulation of nursing homes

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House said Friday that it has no plans to soften government regulation of nursing homes or cut back inspections, although the Department of Health and Human Services has been working on a plan that cuts back oversight for certain homes.

The New York Times reported the plan in Friday's editions to increase inspections on homes with poor records while cutting back those with a history of good quality. An HHS spokesman, Bill Pierce, confirmed the essence of the plan late Thursday night.

But Friday morning, Pierce and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said these proposals had been rejected. Fleischer said Bush plans to outline a series of initiatives this fall to stiffen nursing home oversight.

``We're going to beef up and strengthen nursing home regulations,'' Fleischer said. ``We're working to strengthen accountability.''

The administration will not ease regulatory requirements on nursing homes, reduce the frequency of inspections nor lessen or eliminate some penalties, Fleischer said.

Late Thursday, Pierce said the plan would reduce inspections for homes that have proven they had strong quality records, reserving more inspection dollars for places with a history of poor care. On Friday, Pierce said he had based his comments on outdated information and has been told that the plan was rejected.

Nursing homes say federal regulations are too onerous, but easing them has been a dicey political proposition. Consumer advocates warn that a nursing home that is good one day can turn unsafe the next with a change in management or patients.

The administration's ``nursing home quality initiative'' that would also help consumers find information on the quality of various homes when they are shopping for a facility. This ``consumer guide'' would be posted on the Internet, Pierce said.

Current law requires inspections once a year for nursing homes that get payments from Medicaid or Medicare, with no more than 15 months between inspections.

The Bush administration was considering changes that would increase the average time between inspections to two or three years, according to documents cited by the newspaper.

The Times also said that the administration wants Congress to reconsider a law that requires the government to stop payments to nursing homes that fail to comply with federal health and safety standards in six months after an inspection.

Under the plan outlined by the Bush administration, the newspaper said, nursing homes could continue to collect payments if they made substantial improvements and if the violations that remained uncorrected did not cause harm to patients.

Administration officials said Friday they plan to do none of that.

``We are pursuing initiatives to strengthen accountability and improve monitoring of nursing homes,'' said a statement Friday from Tom Scully, who runs the Medicaid and Medicaid programs.