MEDICAL PRIVACY: Gore To Unveil Safeguards Today
Vice President Al Gore "today will call for legislation on an array of hot-button privacy issues and propose new regulations for maintaining the security of health information by health plans and providers," the Los Angeles Times reports. Gore is also expected to announce that the Clinton administration will "postpone indefinitely plans to issue a unique health identifier number to every American." The medical ID program will be put off "until medical privacy protections have been put into law," according to White House officials. Deirdre Mulligan, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, "Symbolically, it's important for the government to call for legislation. It sends a signal to Congress that they are serious. It sends a signal to industry that they have to continue to work and to the advocacy community that they are listening" (Rubin, 7/31).
USA Today Debate
An editorial in USA Today warns readers that the House Republican patient protection bill would weaken privacy laws enacted by the states. "Instead of replacing them with federal privacy protections," the editorial states, the GOP measure "broadens the number of outsiders who can look at your health records and pass them on -- without your consent or knowledge." USA Today also says the bill would permit "doctors, hospitals, insurers and pharmacists to release your personal medical information to outsiders involved in 'health operations,'" a "vague" provision that "could open private health information to employers who want to check up on a worker's health status and to credit or marketing companies with vague connections to the medical field." The editorial concludes that the Senate should enact "meaningful privacy guarantees when it takes up HMO reform legislation." Or at the least, USA Today recommends that Congress "shouldn't further erode patient privacy by erasing the meaningful work of the states" (7/31).
In the "Opposing View" column, Healthcare Leadership Council President Pamela Bailey defends the GOP measure, saying it "would protect records" and "help maintain quality care." She writes, "Without access to information, new, lifesaving drugs and treatments would not be available, health plans could not alert patients when it is time for immunizations and breast cancer checks, and health care providers would be unable to warn patients of adverse drug reactions." Bailey concludes, "The best patient protection is continuous quality improvement. That takes place through research and innovation. It's vital that we effectively guard the confidentiality of patient records, while preserving the ability to use information to improve quality, perform research and coordinate care. This [the House GOP] legislation does that" (7/31).