Medicare complaint tracker set to launch

The Health and Human Services Department will go live next month with a national complaint system to track and process incidents reported about Medicare and Medicaid providers and suppliers.

The Aspen Complaints/Incidents Tracking System (ACTS), which HHS announced today, will manage all complaints, from initial intake and investigation through actions taken against health care facilities regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The facilities include nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, outpatient physical therapy services, laboratories and community mental health centers.

The new complaint system, which is more automated than its predecessor, will eliminate duplicate data collection in the states and help them prioritize complaints, HHS officials said.

“ACTS will standardize reported complaints and incidents so that states can also use the information for licensing and accreditation,” CMS administrator Thomas Scully recently told lawmakers during a hearing.

The data available will be more comprehensive than HHS previously gathered. ACTS is based at the CMS data center in Baltimore and takes advantage of an open systems architecture. The ACTS applications run under Microsoft Windows 2000 and use an Oracle Corp. database. All ACTS records will be stored on a magnetic disk subsystem and saved to magnetic tape backup nightly, agency officials said.

Besides antivirus and firewall protections, CMS has established additional privacy guards to prevent tampering with ACTS’ personal data, which includes patient names, addresses and Medicare numbers. The agency has set access privileges, requires user log-in and password authentication, restricts hours of use, and tracks log-ins and -offs.

CMS published the notice of its final plans for ACTS, including data security and privacy protections, in the Federal Register on Friday. The agency has been testing a pilot version of the complaint system, proposed in January, for several months.

CMS submitted its final plans to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month.

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