This website provides readers an historical perspective on the evolution of various healthcare laws and regulations affecting healthcare freedom and privacy.
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Health Freedom Watch
February 2006

Contents:


Congress to Gut State Medical-Privacy Laws?

Congress has latched onto legislation to create a national health-information system: the Health Information Technology Promotion Act of 2005 (H.R. 4157).  However, Citizens' Council on Health Care (CCHC) says the legislation-and its plan-is not the good idea it's portrayed to be.

 

CCHC has published a chart, including analysis of the bill language and implications for the public if H.R. 4157 passes: http://www.cchconline.org/pdf/HR-4157-CCHC-ANALYSIS-2-09-06.pdf.

 

"This bill gives the federal government complete control over private medical data. It advances a national health surveillance system-a system where the patient's data is shared, assessed, analyzed, collected, and used without the patient's consent or knowledge," said Twila Brase, president of CCHC.

 

She clarified, "If this bill passes, there will be virtually no escape for the public. The so-called federal medical-privacy rule (HIPAA) eliminated patient consent requirements. This bill allows the federal government to gut stronger state privacy laws. Together they will lead to the end of personal and medical privacy for all American citizens."

 

"This legislation is not supported by citizens," argued Brase. "It's not supported by patients.  No doubt, the only ones who will support it are those who want free and easy access to patient data-without any worry about being sued."

 

Brase said the bill will:

         gut strong state medical-privacy laws;

         lead to national patient tracking and identification numbers;

         build an intrusive and expensive federal bureaucracy;

         impede frank communication between patients and doctors; and

         leave no patient behind.

Sources:

  • CCHC Press Release, "Congress to Gut State Medical-Privacy Laws?" February 9, 2006.
  • To read the bill, search bill text under "H.R. 4157" at http://thomas.loc.gov.

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$5.5 Billion in 2007 Budget for Building a "Federal Health Architecture"

The President's 2007 budget allocates $5.5 billion for developing a "federal health architecture" (FHA). According to the budget-report section titled "Analytical Perspectives," the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to work through the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT) to develop the FHA. The report states, "Throughout the coming year, the Administration will continue to focus on the improvement of the quality and efficiency of health care by ensuring the appropriate steps are taken to eventually enable Federal health information technology systems to share health information amongst Federal agencies, with the private sector, and with other governmental entities. Specifically, the Administration will focus on the areas of standards implementation, additional standards development and harmonization, alignment of agency investments, and increased interoperability" (emphasis added).

ONCHIT's website gives an overview of its goal of making health information "interoperable" so that it can be exchanged more easily: "The Consolidated Health Informatics (CHI) initiative will establish a portfolio of existing clinical vocabularies and messaging standards enabling federal agencies to build interoperable federal health data systems. This commonality will enable all federal agencies to 'speak the same language' and share that information without the high cost of translation or data re-entry. Federal agencies could then pursue projects meeting their individual business needs aimed at initiatives such as sharing electronic medical records and electronic patient identification" (emphasis added).

Sources:

  • "Analytical Perspectives: Budget of the United States Government Fiscal Year 2007" (see page 152): (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2007/pdf/spec.pdf).
  • Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), "Presidential Initiatives": (http://www.hhs.gov/healthit/chiinitiative.html).

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Comptroller General Urges Congress to Re-examine Federal Health Spending

David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, has urged Congress to carefully re-examine federal health spending and its impact on our nation's long-term fiscal outlook. Following are important excerpts from Walker's recent House Budget Committee testimony that may be of special interest to Health Freedom Watch readers:

"Contrary to public perceptions, health care is the biggest driver of the long-term fiscal challenge. While Social Security is important because of its size, health care spending is both large and projected to grow much more rapidly."

"[U]nlike Social Security, Medicare spending growth rates reflect not only a burgeoning beneficiary population, but also the escalation of health care costs at rates well exceeding general rates of inflation. The growth of medical technology has contributed to increases in the number and quality of health care services. Moreover, the actual costs of health care consumption are not transparent. Consumers are largely insulated by third-party payers from the cost of health care decisions."

"A major difficulty is that our current system does little to encourage informed discussions and decisions about the costs and value of various health care services. These decisions are very important when it comes to cutting-edge drugs and medical technologies, which can be incredibly expensive but only marginally better than other alternatives."

"The problem of escalating health care costs is complex because addressing federal programs such as Medicare and the federal-state Medicaid program will need to involve change in the health care system of which they are a part-not just within federal programs. This will be a major societal challenge that will affect all age groups."

"We all must make choices that may be difficult and unpleasant today to avoid passing an even greater burden on to future generations. Let us not be the generation who sent the bill for its consumption to its children and grandchildren."

"[M]andatory [federal] spending has grown from 27 percent before the creation of Medicare and Medicaid to 42 percent in 1985 to 54 percent last year."

Walker also highlighted some options for reform to help moderate spending, such as developing national standards of health care and using the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) as means for delivering health-plan options. But moving Medicare beneficiaries from the traditional fee-for-service program to the managed-care insurance programs offered under the FEHBP could reduce seniors' freedom of choice.

Additionally, Walker noted that tax breaks for employer-sponsored health care amounted to $118.4 billion in 2005, compared to $62.2 billion in tax breaks for mortgage-interest deductions that same year. Thus he didn't seem to think it was a good idea to increase tax breaks for health savings accounts or consumer-directed health plans.

Yet, given that rising health-care costs are contributing to our nation's fiscal challenges, it's clear that serious cost-benefit decisions will be made in the coming years. An important question for Americans to consider is, in a free nation who should be making health-plan coverage decisions: employers, government, or individuals?

If we as a nation revere liberty and want individuals to be free to make their own health-coverage decisions, perhaps one of the first steps we should take is to repeal the tax breaks given to employers for purchasing employees' health insurance and instead offer those tax breaks to individuals. That way citizens could be free to purchase the insurance of their choice and gain true insurance portability when changing jobs.

Americans don't rely on employers for automobile or homeowners insurance. Why should we rely on employers for something as personal as health coverage? Because outdated federal tax policy is biased in favor of employer-sponsored health insurance. Perhaps it's time to change that policy and implement tax breaks for health care that uphold the 21st-century values of freedom of choice in the information age.

Sources:

  • David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, Testimony before the Budget Committee, House of Representatives, "21st Century: Addressing Long-Term Fiscal Challenges Must Include a Re-examination of Mandatory Spending" (GAO-06-456T), February 15, 2006: (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06456t.pdf).

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Health Freedom Watch is published by the Insitute for Health Freedom. Editor: Sue Blevins; Assistant Editor: Deborah Grady. Copyright 2006 Institute for Health Freedom.