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Maine's Largest Hospitals Get 2 of 5 'Stars' in Medicare Rankings

Tom Porter
Maine Public file
Maine Medical Center in Portland in July 2015.

Maine’s two largest hospitals have received two out of five stars under Medicare’s new rating system for quality.

The goal of the star rating is to make it easier for consumers to compare hospitals, but some in the health care industry say it’s unfair to larger hospitals with more complex patients.

The new rating system condenses up to 64 measures into a 5-star overall quality rating. While that’s a simpler way for consumers to digest information, James Raczek of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor says whittling complex data down to a handful of stars is problematic.

“It’s unfair, especially unfair, I think, to hospitals that provide a wide scope of clinical practice,” he says.

Raczek is the chief medical officer at EMMC, which, along with Maine Medical Center in Portland, received a two star rating — the lowest scores in the state.

In a written statement, Maine Medical Center expressed a similar sentiment, saying the ratings don’t account for the challenges larger hospitals often face in treating sicker, poorer patients.

Both hospitals also say they are committed to improving their performance. That’s the benefit of these rankings, says Lorrie Marquis of the Maine Health Management Coalition.

“What you measure, you will improve,” she says.

Marquis acknowledges that some larger systems may be unfairly disadvantaged with this star rating. While there’s always room to improve measurements of quality, she says transparency is important.

“Consumers and purchasers, people paying for care, have a right to know about the quality of care that they’re receiving,” she says.

No Maine hospitals received one star or five stars. About half, including Mercy Hospital in Portland, received four stars. Spokesman Wayne Clark says if consumers are to use data, it has to be simplified.

“We’re used to star ratings on almost everything else we do, and even given the issues some people have with this rating system, it is at least something that consumers can absorb,” he says.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has pledged to continually analyze its rating system and to make changes as necessary.

Marquis says it’s important for consumers to get information from multiple sources. She suggests checking other ratings, like Leapfrog as well as the Maine Health Management Coalition’s own GetBetterMaine website.