My Congressman, Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), knows a lot about the importance of the privacy of medical records, having spent most of his adult life in and out of drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Yet Patrick is a hard line Democrat when it comes to government control of health care.
And therein lies the rub. It is inconsistent to assert that highly confidential medical records should remain private, yet turn those very same records over to a centralized electronic repository, as required under electronic records provisions in the February 2009 stimulus bill. There is a long history of confidential government records falling into the wrong hands, such as when various government employees snooped on the confidential passport records of Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton, and hundreds of celebrities. Breaches of government databases from hackers also are routine.
According the CNS News, Kennedy supports allowing patients to keep certain types of records out of the medical database:
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.) says people will be able to stop doctors from including records of sexually transmitted diseases and abortions in the new national system of Electronic Health Records that was mandated by the stimulus law enacted in February.
The law says that doctors, hospitals and other health care providers must create an Electronic Health Record (EHR) for every American by 2014 or else face deductions in their Medicare payments. The EHRs are supposed to be integrated into a national health care IT system where health-care providers nationwide as well as the government would have the ability to access them when authorized.
“This is totally going to be up to the individual,” Kennedy told CNSNews.com when specifically asked if these EHRs would include any STDs or abortions in a person’s medical history.
If the medical records will be secure, there should be no reason to exclude even potentially embarrassing medical events, such as an STD or abortion. Kennedy’s plan to exclude some records reflects the clear and present danger arising from private medical records being centralized and accessible by the government.
Patrick Kennedy unwittingly has done us a favor. I’m sure he didn’t mean to undermine the case for nationalized health care records, but he has done so because he, as much as any person on this earth, recognizes that there are potentially embarrassing medical aspects of our lives which are not safe from disclosure if the information is in government hands.
Unfortunately, as detailed in the CNS News article, it is not clear that patients actually would have the ability to exclude medical records from the central database. So Kennedy may be well intentioned, but he also may be wrong.
The centralized collection of medical information is one of the greatest, yet least examined, threats to individual privacy. Yet because liberals who usually defend privacy also support nationalized health care, the usual privacy groups have been largely silent on the issue.
The fact that this medical records provision was slipped into the stimulus bill demonstrates that eternal vigilance is needed to protect our privacy from a government bent on control.