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Legislation shields medical error information but will not interfere with state mandatory reporting laws.

Congressional bill makes medical errors confidential

But allows states to publish hospital infection rates and other quality measures

Over the past several years, Consumers Union worked with others – especially advocates in Vermont and over 1700 activists nationwide who wrote Senate committee members – to successfully amend medical error legislation so it would not preempt state laws that require publishing of hospital-specific infection rates.

The legislation allows hospitals to submit information about serious medical errors and “near misses” to newly created “patient safety organizations,” which then makes the information confidential, with no public access. The proposal specifically prohibits disclosing information that identifies a hospital. Consumers Union was concerned that this legislation would directly impact our efforts to pass state laws requiring public disclosure of hospital infection rates. Hospital-acquired infections are frequently considered “medical errors.” Medical errors and hospital infections pose a significant threat to patients and add enormous costs to our health care system.

As the 2004 session ended, both House (HR663) and Senate (S720) versions contained language we felt was needed to clarify that this proposal would not interfere with state mandatory reporting laws. However, the bill failed to pass before the Congress adjourned.

Now, the proposal has been reintroduced as S544, which retains the amendment Consumers Union advocated for, clarifying that it will not interfere with state laws on reporting hospital quality information to consumers. On March 8, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions favorably reported S544; the next step will be a full Senate vote.