Patient-privacy bill succumbs in Annapolis committee Supporters' arguments are brushed aside

March 20, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

A bill to require a patient's permission before the state collects information on medical treatments died last night in a House committee, as legislators brushed aside arguments about the possible loss of privacy.

The bill died in the House Environmental Matters Committee on a vote of 8-9, effectively concluding the issue for the remainder of the General Assembly's 90-day session.

The bill would have required a patient to consent to having data about his or her treatment submitted to state agencies that monitor health care costs and availability.

"The database is designed to look over the doctors' shoulders and not know who the patient is," said Del. Ronald A. Guns, the Cecil Democrat who chairs the committee.

Doctors, he said, were using patients' privacy concerns to try to defeat the bill.

But the bill's supporters -- including psychiatrists, psychologists, medical groups and consumers -- said it could lead to privacy violations and erode trust in the health care system. Some legislators sympathized with those concerns.

"I was concerned that somehow they're taking too much information -- more than they need," said Del. Barbara Frush, a Prince George's Democrat who supported the bill.

The consent measure, sponsored by Del. James M. Kelly, a Baltimore County Republican, and several other legislators, would have affected the collection of information by the Health Care Access and Cost Commission. Beginning this year, all insurers in Maryland are required to submit information to the HCACC on every "patient encounter" in a doctor's office or outpatient clinic. The state has been collecting similar information on hospital admissions for more than 20 years.

The computer tapes that the state will receive, based on information that doctors and other providers submit to insurers, will contain some information about each patient, such as ZIP code and month and year of birth. It will include encoded patient numbers but will not include names or Social Security numbers.

An HCACC representative told the committee at a hearing Tuesday that collecting information only from consenting patients "would bias the data" and that "verifying consent would be costly and burdensome."

John M. Colmers, executive director of the HCACC, told the lawmakers that computer "hackers" would not be able to get to the data because there is no dial-up access.

While it is possible an employee could be bribed to provide the data, he said, it would be more logical to try to bribe an employee in a doctor's office or insurance company, where the information would have names and other information attached.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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