Hooray! US Mining Personal Health Data For Your Own Good


The Government just wants to protect the vulnerable. It’s For Your Own Good

U.S. Mines Personal Health Data to Find the Vulnerable in Emergencies

The phone calls were part Big Brother, part benevolent parent. When a rare ice storm threatened New Orleans in January, some residents heard from a city official who had gained access to their private medical information. Kidney dialysis patients were advised to seek early treatment because clinics would be closing. Others who rely on breathing machines at home were told how to find help if the power went out.

Those warnings resulted from vast volumes of government data. For the first time, federal officials scoured Medicare health insurance claims to identify potentially vulnerable people and share their names with local public health authorities for outreach during emergencies and disaster drills.

The program is just one of a growing number of public and corporate efforts to take health information far beyond the doctor’s office, offering the promise of better care but also raising concerns about patient privacy.

Again, this is just The Government protecting you. So what if the data is private. They’re The Government! They’re here to help!

In some cities, text messages remind parents to get their children vaccinated. Elsewhere, emergency medical services sift records to identify – sometimes to law enforcement officials – “frequent fliers” who take repeated, costly ambulance trips. In New Orleans, a health care information exchange notifies primary care physicians when their patients are admitted to hospitals, offers insurers the ability to sift the data for “high-cost users” and permits authorized individuals to “break the glass” in emergencies – viewing records of patients who have not previously given permission and cannot speak for themselves. And a federal program allows data sharing with public health officials to monitor “mental health conditions” and other illnesses in hazardous situations, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“There are a lot of sensitivities involved here,” said Kristen Finne, a senior policy analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services. “When we started this idea,” she said, referring to using Medicare data for disaster assistance, “there was a lot of ‘are you crazy?’ ”

Ms. Finne noted that the program was painstakingly designed to comply with privacy laws.

Of course you’re supposed to trust them. They’re The Government! And they would never overreach, they’d never misuse your data, they aren’t really spying on you. They’d never do that!

It is not a bad idea that first responders and some government agencies know medical conditions of citizens when an emergency occurs. It should be voluntary, though. The Government should not be going out and obtaining the information on its own. I’m deathly allergic to scallops (no exaggeration), and heavily allergic to amoxicillin. If asked, I would list them in an open database for first responders. I would feel that the knowledge would be good for my well-being. Should they simply grab the data? No. Of course, I’m not in Medicare

Respecting the importance of federal and state laws that restrict the disclosure of medical data, the officials found a legal route for Medicare to transfer data on patients’ bills for medical equipment to public health authorities who have systems in place to protect patient privacy. They published a description of it in the Federal Register.

“Now every Medicare beneficiary, at least theoretically, is on notice that their information could be shared in this way,” said Kevin Horahan, a policy analyst with Dr. Lurie’s office.

In other words, these benevolent Progressives found a workaround to take the private data. For your own good. It should concern everyone that Government keeps finding ways to intrude on citizens without permission. I bet if they had run the program voluntarily, asking citizens if there was anything Government should be aware of in the case of an emergency, they would get a good response. Because there are times when Government is necessary. It should not be done simply because Government wants to “help you” and manufactures ways around privacy laws. Where does it stop?

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