Protecting Patient Privacy
October 3, 2011
Protecting Patient Privacy
By: Congressman Tim Huelskamp
The need to repeal the President’s new health care law becomes more apparent every single day. The law was passed with such speed that it was impossible for the last Congress to even read it. As then-Speaker Pelosi said before she and her colleagues made this bill law, “We have to pass the bill so you can see what’s in it.” This is no way to govern, and now Americans will pay another price for that lack of leadership: privacy rights.
In mid-July, the Department of Health & Human Services issued a proposed rule to carry out the President’s health care law that would require health insurance companies to submit information about every single patient to a national database. Data might include personally identifiable information as well as the types of treatment patients are given. HHS Secretary Sebelius says such data collection is necessary in order to evaluate “risk adjustment” – who has healthier patients, who has sicker patients, and how should federal dollars be distributed as a result?
In the proposed rule, HHS offers one of three ways it could get its hands on the data. One, HHS could compel insurers to submit the data directly to them. Two, HHS could require them to provide it to the states (who then turn it over calculations based on those data to the feds). Three, HHS could tell insurance companies how to calculate the numbers it wants, and then force them to turn over these scores. Regardless of which option is ultimately chosen by bureaucratic decree, patient privacy is at stake.
Despite any promises or assurances HHS may attempt to make about protecting your confidential information, there are too many examples of government information getting into the wrong hands. Consider the case when a Veterans’ Affairs employee took a laptop home (against workplace protocol) only to have it stolen. On that laptop was information about 26.5 million veterans and their spouses. Imagine if that laptop had information about why you went to the doctor three times in the past month? But, the biggest concern is the possible intentional exposure of your personal data for personal, economic, or political gain by an enterprising bureaucrat. A database containing information about every single patient claim in the U.S. is a tempting treasure trove of information – and one worth a lot of money.
As time passes, we are likely to find out more that we do not like about the President’s health care law. That is why the House has already passed several pieces of legislation to repeal the President’s law in full or in part. However, it is highly probable that the repeal bill will never reach the President’s desk. So, until it is possible to repeal the legislation in full, the House must exercise its power of the purse. In bringing attention to this issue, I am leading the effort and will stop at nothing to defund any and all parts of this patient database, making it impossible for HHS to get its hands on your private and confidential medical records. I invite you to stay on top of this issue and learn how to make your voice heard at http://huelskamp.house.gov/hhs.