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Health Fundraisers Win Right To Patient Info.

Healthcare fundraisers won a big victory when President Clinton signed into law new Health and Human Service regulations. The new rules were amended from earlier drafts that would have, for reason of privacy, blocked fundraisers from information vital to solicitations.

The Association of Health Care Professionals (AHP) had been lobbying for more than a year for changes to the proposed regulations. The regulations proposed in 1999 would have prohibited access to basic demographic information, such as name, address, and telephone number.

The changes allow nonprofit hospitals and their foundations to continue to use a patient's basic demographic information to solicit gifts. It also allows access to the dates of care.

List usage is restricted to the "covered entity" (the hospitals and their related foundations) and those working only on behalf of the covered entities. And, patients must be given the opportunity to opt out.

William McGinly, president of the Falls Church, Va.-based AHP, said a survey of its membership showed they raised $5.7 billion in 1998. McGinly predicted the lost fundraising revenue could have resulted in "short-term losses of $3 to 3.5 billion if it went into effect."

Though AHP's lobbying effort was intensive, McGinly admitted some surprise at the changed regulations. "It's very unusual," he said. "We're very pleased with it."

McGinly still sees a continuing education battle. For example, he's heard some say the new regulations only allow an institution to solicit patients once. "You can go as many times as you want unless they opt out," he countered.

McGinly said AHP found itself virtually alone in the lobbying fight, more than tripling its government relations budget. NSFRE (now known as the Association of Fundraising Professionals [AFP]) included references to the battle by the health care institutions, but it indicated to McGinly that since its diverse membership included those who weren't supportive of AHP's position, AFP couldn't be too noticeable in its support.

Walter Sczudlo, vice president of public affairs and general counsel of AFP, was also surprised by the HHS turnaround. "It comes from the fact that, in the initial proposed rules, they singled out fundraising as a prohibited activity," he explained. "The trend seems to be toward recognizing that there needs to be an infrastructure to fundraising and that regulators shouldn't over-control that infrastructure."

Sczudlo acknowledged that there wasn't universal agreement among AFP's membership that the HHS requirements could hurt all fundraising. "Even though the proposed regulations seemed to be narrowly directed toward privacy in the health care arena, we were concerned that it was the first step toward (more regulations on fundraising) in the broader context."

McGinly said that the concern HHS had focused on was the selling of lists of names, a practice he said AHP members don't conduct. "They'll share anything about how to do fundraising," McGinly said of AHP's membership, "but they won't share their donor lists."

Other health organizations, however, are not always as reluctant to share or sell lists. Joseph Bergen, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the American Lung Association, said health organizations that aren't hospitals likely wouldn't see much change as a result of the new HHS regulations. "I don't know that it's going to have any impact on the rest of the charitable community. (Hospital fundraising) has intensified as all fundraising has intensified," he said.

Now that the enacted regulations are in place, "My biggest concern," McGinly said, "is that we may see other organizations - the insurance industry and others - trying to change it or modify it. ... If that's the push, we're going to come out quite strongly."
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Title Annotation:examines health and service regulations allowing hospital foundations access to patient demographic information
Author:Sinclair, Matthew
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 2001
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