HOME HEALTH: HCFA to Start Gathering Personal Data
In an effort to "provide higher quality care" and cut down on fraud and inconsistent billing, HCFA will start collecting homebound patients' personal information, a move that many criticize as a gross intrusion on patient privacy. The Washington Post reports that the new database will store sensitive questions about mental stability, personal finances and living arrangements (O'Harrow Jr., 3/11). Since last month, about 10,000 home health care agencies have been using the 19-page Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS), information they will start "passing on" to the federal government next month, the AP/Austin American- Statesman reports (3/11). Under the new initiative, the health workers conduct the survey when they first treat a patient and repeat it every 60 days until treatment is completed.
Under Lock and Key?
"We want beneficiaries who qualify for the home health benefit to get the best care and Medicare to pay appropriately. This new patient assessment information will help Medicare both ways," HCFA head Nancy-Ann Min DeParle said in a January statement. But Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University, called the new survey, which asks deeply personal questions, a "coerced collection of information" that offers "tremendous risk of abuse." Civil liberties activists are concerned about the new initiative because it forces home health care workers to send along information on all their estimated 4 million homebound patients, not just Medicare recipients. Denise Nagel, National Coalition for Patients' Rights Executive Director, said, "Whether you're depressed or not is not information you should have to disclose to a government agency." But HCFA contends that it has "a legal obligation to ensure the same quality of care for all patients," and that patients will be notified how the closely guarded information is gathered and used. "It's secure at all times, and access is strictly limited," said HCFA spokesperson Chris Peacock. Other groups oppose the new initiative for different reasons. The Home Health Services and Staffing Association is concerned about the cost of complying with the program and the American Psychiatric Association "objects to questions involving mental health" (Post, 3/11).