By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 1999; Page A10
The federal Health Care Financing Administration has said it will delay collecting medical and personal data from millions of homebound patients in order to complete a review of the program's privacy implications. The announcement comes one week after the agency said -- in response to questions from Vice President Gore, legislators and privacy activists -- it would scale back information it collects about patients who do not receive federal benefits.
Officials plan to require more than 9,000 home health care providers certified by Medicare to fill out a 19-page assessment of more than 4 million patients. Data collection was scheduled to begin April 26. The survey, known as the Outcome and Assessment Information Set, asks a range of medical and personal questions, including whether patients are depressed, have a "sense of failure" or exhibit "socially inappropriate behavior." Only the data collected about patients who receive federal benefits will be in an identifiable form.
Agency officials have said the database will help them improve the quality of care. They also plan to use it to create a new payment system ensuring that Medicare pays the same amount for similar services across the country. That system, authorized by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, must be in place by October 2000. After reading a newspaper report of the program, Gore and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala requested that the agency work with the Office of Management and Budget to assess whether the effort adequately safeguards patient privacy.
Several people familiar with that process said the review is taking
longer than Health Care Financing Administration officials had anticipated.
Among the key issues that must be resolved are the kind of information
collected, how it is maintained and with whom it is shared.