Privacy Needed For Health IT Implementation

January 27, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Today, just an hour before the Senate Finance Committee meets to consider the economic stimulus package, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing titled “Health IT: Protecting Americans’ Privacy in the Digital Age.” Health IT systems were included in the House of Representatives version of the stimulus and are likely to be a part of the Senate version. The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the Judiciary Committee for bringing this crucial topic up for discussion and calls on the Senate to adopt the privacy protections included in the House version of the package.

“By simply holding today’s hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee has signaled the importance for incorporating privacy protections into any health IT system moving forward,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Without the necessary safeguards, implementation of health IT will not secure the trust of the American public – a necessary element for adoption and participation – and will ultimately fail. For the stimulus package to achieve its goal of creating work for the American economy, it makes little sense for Congress to fund faulty programs that stand little chance of succeeding. Privacy protections are a simple fix – one that can lead to benefits for both the individual and the health providers.”

As the federal government has been debating an upcoming stimulus package, health IT systems have often been mentioned as a possible recipient of funding. Late last week, the House introduced a stimulus package that contained both funding for health IT implementation, but also strong safeguards against the abuse and sale of personal medical records.

“In order for health IT to be a part of the overall stimulus package, the Senate needs to hear the calls from a broad range of concerned groups – from privacy advocates to consumer organizations to Microsoft – that privacy safeguards are a necessary condition for adoption,” added Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Health IT can do wonders for the efficiency of our health care system, but only if the American public feels safe that their medical histories won’t be misused and sold as commodities on the free market. Our nation risks entering a period of “medical profiling,” where Americans could face difficulties obtaining health insurance or a job based on the information available in for-sale medical records.”

“The Senate can and should adopt the privacy safeguards granted by the House, and protect against amendments that serve to dilute the prohibition on the sale of medical records,” Sparapani concluded.

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