The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to reopen public access to information on malpractice settlements and discipline taken against poor performing doctors.
HRSA took down its online public file of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPBD) Sept. 1, after a Kansas City Starreporter used the publicly available information to track down the identity of a doctor who had a long record of malpractice cases against him but was never disciplined by the state.
“Shutting down public access to the data bank undermines the critical mission of identifying inefficiencies within our health care system – particularly at the expense of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a letter Friday to HRSA’s administrator Mary Wakefield. “More transparency serves the public interest. Generally speaking, except in cases of national security, the public’s business ought to be public.”
Information from the data bank is intended to be public as long as it does not identify particular health care entities or practitioners, Grassley said in the letter. And yet HRSA threatened the reporter, Alan Bavley, with civil monetary penalties for “republication of information obtained from the NPDB.”
Grassley asked Wakefield to explain her agency’s response to Bavley, submit all communication between HRSA officials and the doctor that was identified in Bavley’s story, and outline what steps they are taking to restore public access to the data bank.
The data bank site says HRSA plans to restore public access as quickly as possible. HRSA has previously said the process of further removing identifiable information from the database could take up to six months, Grassley said.
In the meantime, reporters and researchers can submit requests for data, which are subject to review.