ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Health is withdrawing proposed rules that would clearly explain to the public their collection of health care billing records.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach said concerns raised by citizens and lawmakers prompted the decision, but added that the department would continue to study the issue.
"Good data is absolutely critical to protecting the public's health," Mandernach said.
Thursday's announcement didn't offer much relief to Twila Brase, president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care. She's been fighting the collection for years.
"The department does not need the rule in order to collect patient information," Brase said. "Getting rid of the rule changes nothing. They're still allowed by law to collect the data."
Millions of records already have been collected from Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Medica and Hospital and Health Care Partnership.
A Health Department spokeswoman didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether the agency would cease collection of information.
The Legislature gave the department the authority to collect the records in 1995 to help identify ways to improve the system and contain rising health care costs. An administrative law judge approved the rules in December.
But lawmakers and activists have raised questions about patient privacy and how the data would be encrypted in a database to make sure no individual patient records could be tied to them. Mandernach noted that 29 other states already collect and use the kind of data that the department proposed collecting in its rules.
The medical database would include everything from who has a stroke, abortion or surgery to who takes Prozac.
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