PATIENT SAFETY BILLS: More surveillance; less care

(St. Paul, Minnesota) - The legislation being considered in a congressional committee tomorrow is aimed less at medical errors and more at building a national health surveillance system, according to the Citizens' Council on Health Care.

"This is less about safety and more about surveillance. This initiative is just one unfortunate consequence of the so-called medical privacy rule. Now that the rule is in effect, some members of Congress feel free to let medical records be shared without patient consent," says Twila Brase, president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee will consider two patient safety bills. Sponsored by Rep. Bilirakis, H 663 was passed by the House 418 - 6 on March 12, 2003. The other, S 720, is sponsored by Sen. Jeffords and co-sponsored by Senators Frist, Breaux and HELP committee chairman, Senator Greggs.

Although there are similar concerns in both bill, Brase focused her concerns on the House bill, H 663:

* NO CONSENT: No consent is required for transfer of medical records and other patient-identifiable data to state or regional Patient Safety Organizations. PSOs can be government agencies or private entities.

* DISCRIMINATION NOT PROHIBITED: Although submission of medical error data is voluntary, the legislation does not specifically prohibit discrimination by government regulators, insurers, or accreditation organizations against those who do not submit patient data.

* NATIONAL DATABASE: A National Patient Safety Database will be built. It will collect non-identifiable patient data, but could collect identifiable data in the future.

* COMPREHENSIVE DATA SYSTEMS: Comprehensive electronic health data systems is the goal. HHS must promote "interoperability of information technology systems..." This falls in line with other HHS initiatives. On July 1, HHS announced plans to create a "national electronic health care system", including a standardized electronic medical record.

* TAXPAYER FUNDING: Taxpayer dollars will be used to build computerized data systems. Federal grants to hospitals and other health care providers for information technology ($25 million for 2004 and 2005) will be focused on those applicants who promote electronic communication across the "full spectrum of health care delivery", including bar codes, electronic prescribing, and decision-support technologies for treatment.

Brase warns:

"Voluntary participation rarely stays voluntary for long. Gentle laws often become draconian. Medicare was once voluntary. Now seniors can't get Social Security unless they sign up for Medicare. Medicare once allowed seniors to pay cash for care. Now it's virtually prohibited."

"Medicare and Medicaid are in financial disarray. We expect the federal government to eventually use the computer's tracking capabilities to monitor physician compliance with government-preferred treatments."

"Privacy is not the only concern. Access to health care is at stake. When computers can be used to track treatment decisions, government-imposed incentives to ration care are not out of the question."

Media Contact:

Twila Brase, President and Co-founder
Office: 651-646-8935