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What's Happening with the "Unique Health dentifier" Plan?

February 3, 2000

Congress has placed a temporary, one-year moratorium on federal funding for the government's plan to assign everyone a unique health identifier (a patient ID number). That number would be used to tag and track each person's medical information electronically from cradle to grave. The moratorium was included in the recently enacted appropriations bill (H.R. 3194), which was signed into law November 29, 1999. The stopgap measure was strongly supported by Representatives Dick Armey (R-TX) and Ron Paul (R-TX).

Is This the End of the Unique Health Identifier?

Does this mean efforts to assign everyone a unique health identifier have been halted? No, not at all. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has recommended that the federal government set up privacy regulations before sharing its plan for a unique health identifier.

Yet, the proposed privacy regulations don't truly protect privacy. Instead they actually help pave the way for creating large databases of medical information.

Moreover, if the pending privacy regulations are adopted as proposed, HHS won't need to assign everyone a unique health identifier. That's because the new regulations will permit the government to collect genetic information without patients' consent. The new regulations would, in effect, give the government a way to tag and track individuals' medical information (through DNA identification) without assigning them a number. This data collection could easily be conducted behind the scenes, as patient consent will no longer be required for sharing data in most circumstances.

Who Pushed for the Unique Health Identifier?

The plan to assign everyone a unique health identifier was enacted as part of the Kennedy-Kassebaum health reform bill of 1996, officially titled the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Isn't it ironic that some members of Congress who today push "patients' rights" actually helped pass the 1996 law that will allow the federal government to tag and track each person's medical records electronically?

This article was originally published in the January/February 2000 issue of Health Freedom Watch.