Health Freedom Watch
Legislation Introduced to Digitize
Federal Employee Health Records
Jon Porter (R-Nev.) and Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) have introduced legislation
to convert federal employee health records to electronic files.
The bill (H.R. 4859) would affect some eight million persons
enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
to Porter, the goal of the legislation is to reduce medical
errors, improve the quality of health care, and cut costs. But
it would have the serious unintended consequence of eroding
employees' privacy. That's
because it would require compliance with the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which eliminated
the freedom to forbid the sharing of one's health information
with some 600,000 entities.
representative of the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
testified on H.R. 4589, noting that "According to the Office
of Personnel Management, it is planning to use its position
as one of the largest purchasers of employee health care benefits
to contribute to the expansion and use of electronic health
records, electronic prescribing, and other health IT-related
clear from the GAO testimony that the move to computerize federal
employees' health records is part of the larger goal of establishing
a national health-information infrastructure. Also, the GAO reported that grants from the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement such
a system included an $11.5 million grant in September 2005 "to
assess and develop plans to address variations in organization-level
business policies and state
laws that affect privacy and security practices, including
those related to HIPAA, which may pose challenges to interoperable
health information exchange." (Emphasis added.) State medical-privacy laws that are much
more stringent than the federal privacy rule stand in the way
of the national infrastructure. Thus those working to establish
the new system would need to eliminate the state laws that impede
their effort to distribute patient data electronically without
members of Congress and their staffs seem to be insufficiently
aware that the federal privacy rule reduces the freedom to control access to personal
health information (because it eliminates the need for patient
the consent requirement is fully restored, any proposal to computerize
health records is a recipe for increasing the nonconsensual
distribution of such information, and therefore for increasing
- To read the complete bill text of H.R. 4859,
visit the congressional legislative database http://thomas.loc.gov and search for bill number
- Hearing on Improving the Quality
and Delivery of Health Care within the FEHBP, Subcommittee on
Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, Committee on Government
Reform, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006.
- "Health Information Technology:
HHS is Continuing Efforts to Define a National Strategy," GAO
Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce and Agency
Organization, Committee on Government Reform, House of Representatives,
March 15, 2006.
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Congress Set to Override State Medical-Privacy
By Twila Brase
May 24, the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health
voted 8-5 to approve a bill (H.R. 4157) that will likely be
used to override your state medical-privacy rights. The sponsor of the bill is Republican Nancy
Johnson from Connecticut.
legislation empowers unelected bureaucrats from the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) to decide how much or how
little privacy you can have.
HHS decides to override your state medical-privacy rights, no
state law or state lawmaker will be able to protect you from
the politics of the Washington D.C. beltway and the lobbyists
of health plans, government, and data corporations who want
your private data at no cost and at their own discretion. Remember,
these are the same folks who wrote the federal HIPAA "no privacy"
rule that today lets health plans, law enforcement, public health
officials and others access your entire medical record without
your knowledge or consent UNLESS state law says otherwise.
bill will allow HHS to prohibit your elected state representatives
from writing strong medical privacy laws. Since it is going
to become increasingly easy to share your health information
electronically, our laws should be modernized to provide stronger-not
weaker-privacy rights to meet citizens' demands for privacy
in the information age.
The bottom line is that unless legislation states clearly
that you have the legal right to give or withhold your consent
before your personal health information is accessed or shared,
it cannot be considered a real privacy bill.
To voice your own opinion on H.R. 4157, the Capitol Hill main
phone number is (202) 225-3121.
Brase, RN, is president of Citizens' Council on Health Care
in St. Paul, MN (www.cchconline.org)
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Medicare Costs Projected to More than
Double in Next 10 Years
federal government released its annual report of the Medicare
Trustees on May 1. Following
are important facts and issues worth noting:
amounted to $336 billion in 2005 (up from $184 billion in 1995)
and are projected to more than double to $817 billion by 2015.
Spending per beneficiary
was approximately $8,052 in 2005 (up from about $4,953 per beneficiary
in 1995) and is projected to grow to $16,305 in 2015.
The program covered
nearly 43 million people in 2005 (35.8 million seniors and 6.7
million disabled persons), up from about 38 million in 1995. Enrollment is projected
to grow to more than 53 million by 2015.
The percentage of beneficiaries
enrolled in managed-care plans was 13 percent in 2005 (up from
10.3 percent in 1996) and is projected to expand to 31.7 percent
in 2015. This increase
would be a result of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement,
and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA), which gives higher payments
to managed-care plans.
The Medicare Hospital
Insurance Trust Fund (Part A) is projected to be exhausted by
2018, two years sooner than last year's forecast.
nonpartisan Concord Coalition stated that "Medicare's finances
are in even deeper disarray than Social Security. According to the Medicare Trustees report,
the hospital trust fund that finances Part A expenditures is
already running cash deficits and will require ever-increasing
infusions of general tax revenues to stay afloat. By 2020 Medicare will require general revenue
contributions equal to 25% of individual income taxes in addition
to premiums and payroll taxes dedicated to Medicare."
Richard Foster, the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare
& Medicaid Services, notes in the Trustees report that the
Medicare Part B [doctor-payment program] projections are unreasonable. For them to be reasonable,
he writes, physician fees would have to be reduced 37 percent
over the next nine years, "an implausible result."
Trustees report concludes that total Medicare spending is expected
to increase faster than either workers' earnings or the economy
this issue needs to be resolved soon:
- 2006 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees
of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary
Medical Insurance Trust Funds, May 1, 2006.
- "Concord Coalition Warns Tough Choices Must Be Made on Entitlement
Program," Concord Coalition press release, May 1, 2006.
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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.