"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
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