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Your Medical Records Are Safe…Hopefully

Matthew Allee,
Washington Legislative Office
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February 13, 2009

One of the initiatives included in the economic stimulus package is to provide funding to begin the transition from paper to digital medical records. The move to paperless records has the potential to increase the efficiency of our health care system, which can lead to lower costs for consumers and providers. But a significant concern is the potential for abuse once our personal medical histories are made easily transmittable, because the information they contain is very valuable to those who stand to make money off of the medical care we all need.

For this reason, the ACLU was encouraged that strong privacy protections were included in the conference committee report, released last night, and adopted by the House of Representatives this afternoon. The last hurdle is the Senate, which is debating the package now and will vote this evening.

The strongest protection included was a partial prohibition on the sale of medical records, meaning only those who have a justifiable reason to view our medical histories can do so. Even more significant is that our information can’t be sold to be used for ulterior motives, like marketing medicines and targeting consumers. This is significant because it is the first rollback of the data broker industry anywhere in federal law.

If the Senate adopts the current privacy safeguards and President Obama then signs them into law, health care consumers can rest assured that their medical histories will not be turned into a commodity and sold on the open market. It’s reassuring to see our elected officials stand up to the interests of “big business” for the safety and benefit of their constituents.

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