Schrag then went back to CMS and demanded more answers. He said the only reason he got an explanation from CMS was because he had obtained hard copies of reports and on-the-record statements from the fire marshal’s office. Said Schrag:

I think it would be hard to exaggerate how squishy CMS was in its responses. I was given many answers that kinda, sorta explained it but really did not.

In the end, it turned out to be a software bug, and Schrag, being charitable, said that he believed that CMS officials might not have been aware of the problem. But “if they were,” he noted, “their capacity for obfuscation is formidable.”

There’s a moral in this tale: Don’t take all that government consumer data at face value. I criticized the usefulness of Nursing Home Compare in investigations done a few years ago for Consumer Reports. Now Schrag gives us more reasons to be skeptical.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.