Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) continues to blast away at the September decision by HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration to close access to the public-use file of HRSA's National Practitioner Data Bank. His office has posted a 51-page file documenting correspondence with HRSA from an Overland Park, Kan.-based neurosurgeon and HRSA's letter to a Kansas City Star newspaper reporter indicating he could be subject to an $11,000 penalty if an article containing information from the databank were published.
Grassley fights for doc database access
The database, commonly known as the NPDB, tracks malpractice payments and physician sanctions but doesn't publicly list physician names. The names of physicians identified in the reports are available only to state medical boards and hospital and healthcare organizations to which doctors apply for employment, a medical staff appointment or clinical privileges.
"Department officials are misguided if they think they can make this issue go away with the response sent to my first letter of inquiry," Grassley said in a news release. "This database contains information intended for public consumption, and efforts to shutter access will be fought by those of us committed to transparency where public dollars and the public interest are at stake."
HRSA representatives have argued that, when Congress created the NPDB, the information it contained was never meant to be made public and the public-use file was for general statistical analysis only.
Nevertheless, in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (PDF), Grassley wrote that the decision to remove access to the databank's public-use file "flies in the face of HRSA's mandate to enhance the quality of healthcare."
Grassley posted another file (PDF) showing the material his office received from HHS in response to his original letter that includes 24 pages of heavily redacted documents that hides the names of people involved. In his letter to Sebelius, Grassley requests a briefing with the individual who authorized the shutdown of the public-use file and unredacted copies of the documents.
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