Washington Health Policy Week in Review
Medical Errors Legislation Approved by House Subcommittee

JULY 14, 2005 -- A House subcommittee on Thursday approved legislation that seeks to encourage reporting of medical errors with an eye to reducing avoidable mistakes.

The bill would establish a database of reports from physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers that could be analyzed to determine patterns and identify problems that can be corrected. Information would be shielded from use in medical malpractice suits.

The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved the bill (HR 3205), sponsored by Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., by voice vote.

"These protections will facilitate an environment in which health care providers are able to discuss errors openly and learn from them," said subcommittee chairman Nathan Deal, R-Ga.

The legislation would establish a legal framework for health care providers to voluntarily report medical errors to patient safety organizations run by states, localities, and private entities. It would establish a national patient safety database maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services to catalog the reports and identify regional and national trends in medical mistakes.

The bill also would authorize $25 million in grants per year for fiscal 2006 and 2007 for technology upgrades to help doctors and hospitals avoid errors.

Versions of the legislation passed the House and the Senate in the 108th Congress, but the House never named conferees, and members did not meet to iron out differences in the bills.

The Institute of Medicine estimated in 1999 that medical errors cause up to 98,000 deaths a year. Lawmakers have deadlocked ever since over ways to gather and analyze data about medical mistakes without exposing health care providers to added liability.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved its version (S 544) of the legislation by voice vote March 9. The panel approved the measure with the understanding that Chairman Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., would work with the committee's ranking Democrat, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, to insert a colloquy into the record that clarifies the bill would not shield information currently available to attorneys for use in court cases.


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