GUEST COLUMN: Bill would compromise patients' medical privacy

February 22, 2012

Colorado officials have no business forcing people to choose between medical care and exposing their personal lives to hackers, busybody bureaucrats, and commercial interests. Nor do they have any business increasing the cost of health care by requiring those who pay for their own health care to participate in the latest database boondoggle.

State officials like to preach about controlling health care costs and how forced “transparency” will help people shop for health care. Their actions show that the real goal is to collect and store information about your behavior. When government can track your behavior, it gains a great deal of power to monitor and control your actions.

In 2010, the General Assembly passed HB 1330. It established Colorado’s All-Payer Health Claims Database (APDB). The law says an administrator can collect whatever medical data it wishes from every health care “payer” in the state. If you pay cash, you are a “payer.” Fines may be levied on the noncompliant

Supporters said the APDB would not need public money. They had private grant funding in place, some of it from groups bankrolling ObamaCare. Shortly after the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing appointed the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC) as the APDB administrator, CIVHC removed itself from the Department and set up shop as a private 501(c)(3).

CIVHC’s plans to entering into “contractual agreements” with the state to provide Colorado Medicaid data, a back-door way of getting its hands on the taxpayer dollars that weren’t supposed to support it. It also plans to sell your health data to commercial interests at $50,000 a pop, and to charge providers for providing required data.

Medical privacy? They’re pretending about that, too.

CIVHC CEO Phil Kalin recently wrote, “No identified data will be available in the datasets or reports we provide. Social Security numbers and personal health information will be stripped, a unique identified assigned.” But he also wrote that “public health agencies want to understand patterns of disease diagnosis and treatment, and whether public education campaigns are followed by increased preventive services provided to patients.”

As University of Colorado law professor Paul Ohm, points out “data can be either useful or perfectly anonymous but never both.” In short, a database used to evaluate treatment efficacy and value must include all the data of a clinical trial. That means all of the information available to your physician, pharmacist, and hospital, and information about your personal habits, income, education, and family life.

With all this data it won’t be hard to figure out, or steal, the identity of the unidentified married white female teacher who is 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighs 160 pounds, was born on Jan. 2, 1985, is married, has two children aged 5 and 7, had appendicitis treated at Poudre Valley Hospital 6 years ago, had her second child at Memorial Hospital North in Colorado Springs, had an abortion three  years ago, is in therapy, contracted giardia on a trip to New Zealand, is on the pill, and lives in zip code 80908.

Data kept in paper files in separate offices is hard to steal. It becomes insecure when it is uploaded to an electronic database.

And as if the APDB isn’t enough, Reps. Summers and Massey, along with Sen. Betty Boyd are sponsoring HB12-1242. Under that bill, you won’t be able to get prescription medications or controlled over-the-counter medications without providing a biometric identifier like a fingerprint or a retinal scan. Failure to comply would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, a crime as serious as the possession of child pornography or third degree assault.

If requiring voters to show ID is an unacceptable infringement of rights, so is requiring people to choose between health care and personal privacy. Officials who fail to repeal the APDB enable the ongoing assault on individual liberty.

Linda Gorman is the director of the Health Care Policy Center for the Independence Institute in Denver. Amy Oliver Cooke serves as director of the Transparency Project and the Energy Policy Center at the Institute.

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