PRIVACY I: Clinton Fears Bill Would Derail HHS Efforts
The White House is voicing strong opposition to the medical privacy provisions in the financial services modernization measure passed by the House, saying that the provisions could jeopardize HHS' efforts to "establish stronger protections for customers of financial services companies," Congress Daily/A.M. reports. Treasury Undersecretary Gary Gensler said, "The provisions in (the House bill) apply to 'insurers' who are central to the functioning of the medical system. Such a broad scope would significantly undermine efforts to craft meaningful, comprehensive medical privacy legislation and would erode existing protections" (Barnett, 7/21).
The AMA and American Psychological Association also blasted the bill before a House subcommittee yesterday, alleging it "would violate a principle that patients must consent to the disclosure of medical records," the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. While one provision forbids insurers from sharing medical information with other companies, other provisions "would allow health insurance companies to share medical data with life insurers when people apply for life insurance" and "would let financial companies share a consumer's medical data for research projects," but does not define "research projects." Gensler noted, "No consumer expects that in consenting to a physical examination for an insurance policy, he or she is endangering an ability to obtain credit or employment." Both associations are lobbying Congress to ban the release of medical data without consumers' consent. Last May, the Senate passed a "substantially different version of the financial overhaul legislation that does not include most of the financial and medical privacy provisions," and is currently considering separate health and medical privacy measures (Gordon, 7/21).
Medicare Keeps No Secrets
Meanwhile, the GAO released a report at a Tuesday meeting of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee saying that current safeguards for medical privacy for Medicare beneficiaries are inadequate. "Although few complaints about Privacy Act violations have been made to date, we believe that the weaknesses we and others have identified potentially compromise the confidentiality of health information on Medicare beneficiaries," the report said. The AP/Raleigh News & Observer reports that deputy Medicare administrator Michael Hash said among the steps being taken to improve privacy are clearer notices informing beneficiaries of how their information is used and a system to "track when and where confidential data are shared" (7/21).