HHS Agencies Did Not Report Some Medical Malpractice Claims Paid to National Databank
HHS agencies between 1997 and 2004 did not report 474 cases in which they paid medical malpractice claims, according to an HHS Office of Inspector General report released on Tuesday, the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 10/19). According to the report, the cases involved three HHS agencies -- the Indian Health Service, the Health Resources and Services Administration and NIH (CQ HealthBeat, 10/18).
Under a 1986 law, insurers, hospitals and others must report malpractice claims paid on behalf of physicians to the National Practitioner Data Bank. A 1990 policy directive ordered HHS agencies to report the same information to the databank within 30 days of court judgments or settlements (New York Times, 10/19).
The report attributed the failure to report the cases to lost medical records, incomplete records, not recording the names of physicians and failure to replace a claims officer (CQ HealthBeat, 10/18).
HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson said that the failure to report paid malpractice claims leaves state medical boards without important information required to make decisions on physician licenses, adding that "underreporting of the department's own medical malpractice cases lessens the usefulness of the National Practitioner Data Bank and undermines departmental efforts to regulate private and public sector compliance" with requirements to report the same information.
According to the Times, HHS officials told Levinson that they did not want to report paid malpractice claims if they thought the care provided by a physician was appropriate. Levinson said, "The private sector is required to report all medical malpractice settlements and judgments," regardless of the reporter's view of the physician's performance.
Betty Jane Duke -- administrator of HRSA, which operates the databank and finances community health centers -- said that she will recommend policy changes to "ensure greater compliance." However, based on discussions between HHS OIG and the HHS agencies, Levinson said, "It was not clear whether they would fully comply."
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sponsored the law that established the databank, said, "It is imperative that the federal government fully comply with the reporting requirements," adding that the databank "is only as good as the information it contains" (New York Times, 10/19).
The report is available online. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.