California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

PRIVACY: GOP HMO Bill Will Allow Medical Data To Be Sold

      A "little-noticed" section of the House Republican patients' rights bill would give health care companies the right to "disclose or sell" patient health information, preempting many more restrictive state laws. The provision, sponsored by Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) and included in a bill that will be voted on by the full House today, would allow hospitals, HMOs, pharmacies, doctors and insurers to disclose patient data to providers or health plans for the purposes of "case management and setting health plan ratings for companies," the Washington Post reports. Privacy advocates called the health information provision "a step backward" in ensuring consumer privacy. "Protection of the privacy of the patient is literally destroyed. It is one of the worst outrages that I've seen," said Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). "It's a serious interference with the doctor-patient relationship," said Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University Medical Center.

View From The Other Side
      One health care company representative contended the privacy provisions in the House GOP managed care reform bill are strong. "This is the proposal that most effectively balances the two responsibilities of ... keeping patient information confidential and (using patient data for) promoting and delivering high-quality health care services," said Health Care Leadership Council spokesperson Heidi Wagner. She said preempting state privacy laws is a key provision because "the laws are all over the map on this issue." And Wagner noted that the bill requires companies to develop their own privacy policies to protect health care consumers.

Remember The Drug Info. Controversy?
      The Washington Post notes that the preemption provision "could legally protect" a controversial practice by some pharmacy chains that generated heavy news coverage earlier this year. "CVS, Giant and thousands of individual pharmacies were sending patient prescription information to a Massachusetts company. That company mailed out product pitches on behalf of pharmaceutical manufacturers and reminders to fill prescriptions on behalf of pharmacies. Giant and CVS dropped the practice after" it was reported in the Post and other papers (Schwartz, 7/24).

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