Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich
Support Legislation That Could Increase Medical Privacy Risks
Senator Hillary Clinton (Dem.-NY) joined former House Speaker
Newt Gingrich in support of medical information technology legislation
that could lead to increased risk of invasions of privacy and
possibly identity theft if appropriate protections are not provided,
according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
The legislation [H.R. 2234], introduced [May 10] by Representatives
Patrick Kennedy (Dem.-RI) and Tim Murphy (Rep.-PA), will create
huge databases containing a patient's medical information including
illnesses and genetic predispositions, alcohol and drug addiction,
the medications the patient receives, and most likely, personal
identifier information like Social Security Numbers. The bill
requires health information networks funded through new technology
grants to allow patients to "opt out" of including their information
in medical databases but fails to hold database operators accountable
when information is inappropriately accessed.
"While better medical technology can save lives and money, this
legislation puts consumers at risk of invasions of privacy and
possibly identity theft," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "At a
time when information brokers buy and sell our private information
to the highest bidder, database managers must be held accountable
when identity thieves take advantage of lax security precautions
and make our private information public....
"In light of major security breaches at information warehousers
like ChoicePoint, any legislation to expand the use of medical
databases must have significant protections built-in so that
patients are not forced to face new threats to their privacy,"
Source: Reprint of press release of the Foundation for Taxpayer
and Consumer Rights (FTCR), May 11, 2005.
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What All Americans Should Consider
Regarding H.R. 2234
Imagine the following scenario: In 2008 you visit your general
practitioner. You want to pay cash for your visit and maintain
truly private paper medical records. Your physician, whom you've
been seeing for more than 20 years and with whom you've built
a trusting relationship, says she would very much like to honor
your wishes, but she can't. The reason is that in order to
continue treating Medicare patients (which constitute 50 percent
of her practice), she is required to maintain electronic medical
records and submit claims to the federal government-for all
Sound farfetched? It shouldn't. Medicare is the largest single
payer of health care in the United States and the world. Given
the government's large purchasing power, it can essentially
mandate the practice of most physicians. And with the forthcoming
retirement of the baby boomers, tomorrow's physicians will find
that an ever-greater share of their practices are Medicare patients.
All Americans should consider carefully the unintended consequences
of establishing taxpayer financed regional health-information
networks, the objective of H.R. 2234. Here are some important
issues to consider:
- The bill purports to prohibit the creation of a national
database. But since it fosters the linking of data, it essentially
creates a de facto national database. Creating an "interoperable"
(linkable) network of databases is a way of establishing a national
database while pretending not to!
- Under the proposed legislation, Americans' health information
will be subject to the federal medical-privacy rule, which eliminates
patient consent in the sharing of personal information. In
other words, once individuals provide information to a regional
network, they will have no say in how it is used for many purposes.
- The legislation claims to give patients the option of allowing
only designated providers to see information concerning sexually
transmitted disease, addiction, and mental illness. But unless
patients have the absolute freedom to opt out of an electronic
medical-records system and decide who can access their medical
records for all purposes, their privacy cannot be guaranteed.
- H.R. 2234 also allows patients to exclude their information
from a data network. But what about their physicians? Will
they be required to submit data about patients to Medicare or
other government agencies?
- The bill directs the secretary of health and human services
to establish a method for paying doctors and hospitals that
provide services under Medicare. Thus doctors could be coerced
into participating in the regional, that is, de facto national,
networks through the government's manipulation of Medicare fees.
The legislators who introduced H.R. 2234 undoubtedly are striving
to help improve the U.S. health-care system. For example, the
bill's findings point out that "preventable health care acquired
infections cost $4.5 billion per year and contributed to more
than 88,000 deaths-one death every 6 minutes." They also note
that "A study by the Rand Corporation found that patients receive
recommended care only about 55 percent of the time." The legislation
calls for the development of a "clearinghouse of best [medical]
But what legislators seem to ignore is that human error can
occur with technology too. In fact, in some cases technology
can increase the speed at which errors occur. For example,
because of human error at Florida Hospital 300 patients' medical
information was faxed to a wrong number. The records included
medical data, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.
Regardless of good intentions, the bottom line is that unless
all Americans are free to maintain private contracts with physicians
and other health-care providers, and unless physicians are free
to accept private payment from patients (without being penalized
under Medicare), individuals can't exercise their right to health
privacy-a precious liberty that freedom-loving citizens cherish
and want restored.
Source: H.R. 2234, "21st Century Health Information Act
of 2005," May 10, 2005. To read the complete bill, visit the
congressional legislative database http://thomas.loc.gov
and search for the bill number.
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71 Percent of Older Adults Use Alternative
Nearly three out of every four adults over age 50 use some kind
of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine,
according to a new study.
While previous research has been limited, this appears to be
a higher rate than occurs within the general population, said
Gong-Soog Hong, co-author of the study and professor of consumer
sciences at Ohio State University. This study found that 71
percent of older adults used some form of alternative medicine
in 2000. A study done in 2002, found a lower rate-about 62 percent-among
all adults. "The percentage of older adults who used alternative
medicine was higher than I expected," Hong said....
The researchers used data from the 2000 Health and Retirement
Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan and funded mainly
by the National Institute on Aging. The survey included 848
respondents aged 50 and over.
The survey asked about the use of six types of alternative medicine:
- massage therapy,
- breathing exercises,
- herbal medicine, and
The most commonly used form of alternative medicine was chiropractic,
which about 43 percent of respondents had used. Acupuncture
was the least used.
Some of the results will need more research to explain, Hong
said. For example, the findings showed blacks, widows, and
more religious people all tended to use alternative medicine
more often than did other older adults. Other results were more
Respondents were more likely to use alternative medicine if
they said they were in poor health and if they reported more
problems with daily activities, such as carrying groceries,
eating or bathing. Of those who described their health as poor,
65 percent said they used some form of alternative medicine
they considered preventive or curative-a higher percentage than
among any other group. And about 63 percent of respondents who
said they were not satisfied with their health care also tried
alternative therapies classified as preventive or curative.
"Older adults tend to have more chronic illnesses, and conventional
medicine doesn't always solve their problems," Hong said. The
aches and pains that often come with age may also send more
older adults to search for different kinds of treatments. "Treatment
of chronic pain is very difficult," she said. "People who are
living with pain will try everything possible to alleviate it.
Those taking a holistic approach toward life may try something
else such as alternative medicine." However, the exact reasons
why these older adults used alternative medicine is not known
from this research and needs further study, Hong said.
The fact that those who were less satisfied with their health
care were more likely to use alternative medicine does suggest
some people have issues with the current state of conventional
Hong said the medical establishment has begun studying alternative
medicine and has begun to accept some forms of non-traditional
Source: Reprint of press release of Ohio State University,
distributed April 9, 2005.
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