Reagan Era Law Needs Obama Era Action

HealthLeaders Media Staff, August 31, 2009

There are a lot of things in healthcare that defy common sense. For example, healthcare is one of the few areas where new technology often adds to cost, and where the proverbial pound of cure is rewarded far more than the ounce of prevention.

So, it shouldn't have been a complete surprise to learn that—22 years after Congress passed legislation that would allow for a Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank to document disciplinary problems among more healthcare professionals—hospitals and nursing homes still can't access the data.

According to the consumer group Public Citizen, the legislation that was supposed to allow access to the disciplinary data—Section 1921 of the Social Security Act—was enacted 1987, but HHS has never implemented Section 1921.

Until that happens, more than 5,000 non-federal hospitals and 700 nursing homes cannot access the data bank. In fact, under the law now, if a non-federal hospital or nursing home tried to access the data they'd run afoul of HIPAA laws.

A little perspective is needed here. In 1987, Ronald Reagan was president, Michael Douglas won an Oscar as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, and The Simpsons made their first TV appearance on The Tracy Ullman Show.

In a recent letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Public Citizen urged her to implement Section 1921.

"Many of these workers would not have jobs in the healthcare field if their current employers knew about their checkered pasts," says Sidney Wolfe, MD, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "Keeping these records secret greatly increases the chance that patients will be injured or killed at the hands of their caretakers."

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