MD DISCIPLINE: Bliley Calls for Public Access to Records
Though a "dead issue since the mid-1990s," consumer access to a secret government database tracking doctors with disciplinary records resurfaced yesterday when Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-VA) reintroduced the issue in a letter to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. The National Practitioner Data Bank was established by Congress ten years ago to allow hospital administrators, managed care companies and licensing boards check physicians' backgrounds for possible disciplinary infractions. At that time, a law was passed to seal that information from everyone else, including consumers. In the letter, Bliley wrote, "It seems unfair to restrict this information from consumers -- the very people the law was intended to protect." Expanding access to the database was proposed a few years ago by Sen. Ron Wyden (D- OR), then a member of the House. Wyden argued that there is "no logical argument for keeping proven, flagrant cases of professional misconduct from the public." But the American Medical Association has lobbied "fiercely" against giving the public access to the database. AMA spokesperson Dr. Thomas Reardon noted that although consumers "need to know when a state disciplines a doctor," he contends that "providing broader information, such as malpractice judgements, was unfair because some of the best doctors are sued." Reardon suggested a possible political agenda for the renewed interest in the issue, citing the AMA's opposition to the GOP stance on the patients' bill of rights. He said, "If there is an attitude in Congress to punish organizations which disagree with what's going on in Congress, then that's sad." However, Bliley spokesperson Steve Schmidt adamantly denied the allegation, stating that Bliley simply wants to "help patients uncover incompetent doctors." He added, "The fact that the AMA doesn't even want to shine a light down that road is troubling." Bliley announced plans for congressional hearings early next year to pursue the issue (Neergaard, AP/P hiladelphia Inquirer, 11/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.