PRIVACY: GAO Finds Weakness in Medicare’s Confidentiality
A GAO report on the confidentiality rights of Medicare beneficiaries found that while HCFA "generally does a good job of protecting the confidentiality of beneficiaries' medical information," more needs to be done to safeguard their privacy, CongressDaily/AM reports. Appearing before the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee yesterday, GAO's Leslie Aronovitz testified that HCFA often fails to "inform beneficiaries that their information may be disclosed [and] ... lacks the ability to readily provide beneficiaries with accounting of disclosures." In addition, Aronovitz noted, "HCFA is unable to systematically reduce the likelihood of inappropriate use of data." HCFA's Deputy Administrator acknowledged problems but said it "is devising new systems to better track who has access to what information" (Rovner, 7/21). A detailed summary of the GAO's findings was presented in a press release distributed by health subcommittee Chair Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), who requested the study. Among them:
- Unauthorized persons could access HCFA's computer system to obtain beneficiaries' medical records.
- Variances in state laws could hinder HCFA's ability to administer Medicare.
- HCFA's efforts to notify seniors of their rights are "inadequate."
- When HCFA provides health data to outside agencies, it fails to ensure that records are properly protected, returned or destroyed (Release, 7/20).