MEDICAL PRIVACY: Bill Promotes Dangerous Data Leaks
The House's recent approval of medical privacy legislation drew fire in a USA Today editorial , which decried the spotty protections granted by state governments, 31 of which leave genetic data "pretty much an open book," while only "four protect information about abortion." Aided by technology, employers "use medical information in hiring decisions, pharmacies sell prescription data to marketers, and researchers collect patient records for their studies. All without the patients' knowledge or consent." The editorial notes that Congress plans to enact privacy legislation by August 21, but a current provision "tucked in a House financial services bill would, among other things, open records to credit agencies and banks without patient consent." The editorial concludes: "Unless Congress sees the light, and soon, patients will be left with the luck of the state draw."
Red Tape Scare
In an accompanying op-ed, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association CEO Patrick Hays also expresses disappointment with the privacy bills pending in Congress, but for different reasons, most notably that "they would result in a confusing paperwork nightmare for consumers." He writes, "Your health plans need access to medical records in order to pay claims, guard against fraud and abuse, and conduct quality-assurance activities," and adds, "Any federal regulation to protect confidentiality must be practical, simple and balanced enough to allow these routine processes without further bureaucracy." The lack of privacy has its merits, Hays says, as "health plans aid consumers by using medical records data to help physicians immediately identify potential problems -- such as drug allergies, missing lab results or dangerous drug interactions." Hays concludes: "We believe federal confidentiality legislation should avoid flooding consumers with new paperwork and stifling innovation, and allow future health improvement and patient safety efforts to flourish" (USA Today, 7/26).