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HHS Has Failed to Report Nearly Two-Thirds of Its Medical Malpractice Payments to National Data Bank, New Analysis Shows

Public Citizen Findings Show Long-Term Systemic HHS Noncompliance With Reporting Requirements, Calls on Congress to Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for decades has failed to report nearly two-thirds of medical malpractice payments made on behalf of thousands of the agency’s own doctors and other health care professionals, putting patients at risk, Public Citizen has found. The organization today called on congressional committees that oversee the agency to act.

According to Public Citizen research, for more than two decades, HHS has failed to report nearly two-thirds of medical malpractice payments to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), as required by law and the department’s own policy. These malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors and other health care professionals practicing at the National Institutes of Health, Indian Health Service and Health Resources and Services Administration.

Using data obtained from HHS under the Freedom of Information Act, Public Citizen found that from 1994 to 2016, out of a total of 3,352 medical malpractice payment reports that should have been submitted to the NPDB by HHS, the agency failed to submit 2,113 (63%) of these reports. By not reporting these payments, HHS has compromised patient safety and the integrity of the NPDB, Public Citizen said in its letter to Congress.

The goal of the NPDB is to protect patients from doctors and other health care professionals who have a record of providing inadequate or negligent care. It is used by state medical and other professional boards and health care organizations to conduct background checks to determine if a doctor or other health care professional has been sanctioned for misconduct by a hospital, had his or her license to practice curtailed by a state medical or other professional board or has had any malpractice payments made on his or her behalf. Incomplete information undermines the utility of these background checks.

Public Citizen’s letter highlights that in 2005, the HHS Inspector General documented widespread noncompliance by HHS agencies with medical malpractice payment reporting to the NPDB and made recommendations to address the problem, but the noncompliance has persisted unabated. Therefore, Public Citizen is demanding that congressional committees conduct oversight hearings and take legislative or other action, as needed, to ensure all medical malpractice payments made on behalf of HHS doctors and other HHS health care professionals, including previously unreported cases, are reported to the NPDB.

“This unacceptable pattern of noncompliance by HSS has remained the same for more than 20 years,” said Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group. “HHS can’t be trusted to resolve these issues itself, and Congress needs to take action now before more patients are put at risk by dangerous doctors whose medical malpractice goes unreported.”

Read the letter here.