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Congress Temporarily Halts Funding of Unique Health Identifier:
Will President Clinton Sign It into Law?

August 11, 2000

In June, the House of Representatives and the Senate each voted to temporarily stop funding of the Clinton administration's plan to assign a unique health identifier to each American for the purpose of tracking medical records.

The House on June 13 adopted Rep. Ron Paul's (R- TX) amendment to the $106.2 billion fiscal 2001 appropriations bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education. Paul's amendment would temporarily halt federal funding for unique health identifiers.

On June 14, the appropriations bill (H.R. 4577) passed the House by a slim margin, 217 to 214. A few weeks later the Senate also approved (by 52 to 43 votes) an appropriations bill that included the moratorium.

What Happens Next?

The Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill has already been through conference, the process whereby a committee irons out the differences between the versions. As of August 3, the conference committee had not yet filed its final report showing compromises between the House and Senate versions. A committee report is expected to be filed in September. Then the full House and Senate must approve the conference report before the revised bill goes to the President for his signature.

Will President Clinton Approve the Moratorium?

President Clinton has been a strong advocate of the unique health identifier. In fact, the proposal for assigning a number to every American originated with his Health Care Task Force in 1993.

Remember the "President's Health Security Plan" that failed to receive a single vote in Congress? It included a provision to create a health card and a unique health identifier for every American. The plan stated, "like ATM cards, the health security card allows access to information about health coverage through an integrated national network."

Although that plan failed, another plan to create a medical identification system was signed into law as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Regulations were supposed to have been drafted by now. However, during the past two years Congress has placed temporary moratoriums on funding for identifiers.

Moreover, the Clinton administration has begun to acknowledge the enormous resistance to identifiers and wants to make sure "privacy regulations" are in place before the identifiers are created. However, proposed federal privacy regulations don't truly protect patients' privacy. Rather, they would give many people new, unfettered access to Americans' medical records--without their consent (see www.ForHealthFreedom.org/Publications/Privacy/NeedToKnow.html ).

The Institute for Health Freedom and others have reviewed many of the public comments about the proposed regulations, and there is no doubt that the public wants more, not less, privacy protection. They also are concerned about the unique health identifier. Thus it is likely that President Clinton will approve another moratorium this year.

But once this moratorium expires, Americans sooner or later will likely be assigned a tracking number to monitor their medical records electronically. That's a fact, not a prediction: the HIPAA law of 1996 remains on the books and would have to be repealed to ensure that we are not subject to this intrusive system.

This article was originally published in the July/August 2000 issue of Health Freedom Watch.