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Measure to Establish National Patient Safety Database Wins Passage in the Senate

JULY 22, 2005 — The Senate passed legislation Thursday night by voice vote that would establish a system of health care providers to report medical errors without fear of the data being used in malpractice lawsuits.

The bill (S 544), which was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on March 9, 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. Under the bill, $25 million in grants would be authorized for fiscal 2006 and 2007 to be used for technology upgrades to help doctors and hospitals avoid errors.

The Senate unanimously passed a nearly identical medical errors measure last year, and the House passed a version in 2003. But the House never appointed conferees, and the effort to clear the legislation died.

However, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved its own version of the bill (HR 3205) on July 20 and committee Chairman Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, said he expected speedy passage on the House floor.

Both the House and Senate measures were negotiated by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., with the understanding that the legislation would not shield information now available to lawyers for use in court cases.

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