New Medicare online tool lets you check nursing home COVID vaccination data

It comes acted after complaints about how hard it was to find that information on Medicare.gov. Until now, one way to do that had required accessing a huge spreadsheet.

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Families and patients have a new online tool to compare COVID-19 vaccination rates among nursing homes.

Families and patients have a new online tool to compare COVID-19 vaccination rates among nursing homes.

John Locher / AP

Medicare has created a new online tool to compare COVID-19 vaccination rates among nursing homes.

The information is now available through the “Care Compare” feature at Medicare.gov, the online tool for basic research on quality and safety issues at nursing homes.

Consumers can compare up to three nursing homes at the same time. The site shows vaccination rates for residents and staff and also national and state averages.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, acted in response to complaints from consumer groups and lawmakers that this key data had been too difficult to find.

Medicare has been posting vaccination information online for months — but on a site designed for researchers and people who work in the industry. For instance, one way to navigate the site involved accessing a huge spreadsheet. Another involved hunting around on a map for little red dots representing nursing homes.

“We want to give people a new tool to visualize this data to help them make informed decisions,” said Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, head of the Medicare agency.

Though only a tiny proportion of the U.S. population, nursing home residents accounted for roughly one in five COVID deaths nationally — more than 150,000 deaths.

Nationally, about 84% of nursing home residents are now vaccinated, which has slowed — but not totally prevented — the spread of the Delta variant among frail patients.

But nursing home staffers are the bigger concern. Only about 64% are vaccinated — roughly the same share as the nation’s overall adult population. The virus commonly gets into facilities via staffers who have been exposed in nearby communities and then unwittingly pass on the infection to residents.

The new online tool reminds consumers comparing facilities that higher percentages of vaccinated residents and staff “are better.” Information on COVID vaccination rates is available below each nursing home’s ratings. The data reflect the latest information reported by nursing homes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The statistics reveal big disparities in vaccination rates among states and sometimes wide differences within states and cities.

Among those who had been complaining were two senior Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Citing an Associated Press report on breakthrough infections among nursing home residents, Wyden and Casey urged Medicare to move quickly. Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid, and Casey heads the Senate Aging Committee.

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