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Can You Have True Health Privacy Under Nationalized Health Care?

May 20, 2004

A number of organizations are accusing President Bush of flip-flopping on his promise to make privacy a priority. A recent article in the Austin Chronicle cites President Bush's 2000 campaign statement, "I believe privacy is a fundamental right." Yet, as the Institute for Health Freedom (IHF) has pointed out, the federal medical-privacy rule that was modified by the Bush administration does just the opposite of protecting patient privacy—it actually authorizes many people to see patients' records without their consent.

But while this is disturbingly true, it's important to note that President Bush is not the only one who has been weak on medical privacy over the past few years. Several prominent organizations and national newspapers endorsed President Clinton's proposed federal medical-privacy rule, which would have prohibited doctors from getting patients' consent before releasing their medical information. Moreover, some groups that support federalizing health care initially thought it would be good to give the federal government new, centralized power over privacy even though—as IHF, the Liberty Committee, and only a few other groups pointed out—the Clinton rule would have dispensed with patient consent for the release of records.

After IHF alerted the public to the proposal to remove patient consent and after HHS received thousands of public comments opposing this change in medical ethics, the Clinton administration altered the rule to restore consent. But that version of the rule still had so many loopholes that the so-called right to privacy fell far short of giving patients true control over access to their health information. The Bush administration came along and stripped away patient consent, making a bad rule even worse.

Now some of the groups who previously supported federalizing health care and medical privacy are opposing the federal medical-privacy rule because they don't like how it applies to issues near and dear to them. And the problem with this rule—as bad as it is now—would only get worse with national health care, or a single-payer system. Whoever pays the bill would have access to everyone's medical records. Moreover, the government would determine what health-care services would and wouldn't be covered.

It's time to face this important fact: You can't have a truly confidential patient-doctor relationship if the government pays for your health care.

This article by Sue Blevins was originally published in the March/April 2004 issue of Health Freedom Watch.