Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The federal government wants your health records

By Bob Confer

Most everyone is familiar with the basics of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, best known by its acronym, HIPPA. Among its more popular features is the preservation of your privacy in regard to your health records.

HIPPA has added some burdens and cost to the administration of health care, but it’s been well worth it. No one but you, the physician you most trust, and certain functions and personnel of your insurance and/or care providers should know – or do know - the sometimes touchy and embarrassing details of your physical, mental and sexual histories.

HIPPA has held businesses -- from insurance companies and medical doctors to pharmacies and nursing homes – to a high set of standards. Even government-run medical coverage (like Medicaid and Medicare) has fallen under the privacy umbrella. But, confidentiality may be changing for the worse, led by the very agency charged to enforce HIPPA no less.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed regulations (HHS-OS-2011-0022) that would require health insurance companies to break the obligations to their customers and share the individuals’ records with the federal government. HHS says it wants to track the health status of each and every American as a means of ensuring that insurance companies are meeting the new standards that came from Obamacare which state that insurers cannot discriminate against the uninsured or those suffering from pre-existing conditions.

HHS doesn’t yet know if these records will be collected by the federal government or by the states, which will then share the data with HHS. Any way that it’s achieved, too many people – and the wrong people – will see your records.

My wife is a doctor of psychology and based on her strong belief in, and adherence to, ethical and legal standards, she and I never discuss her clients. Her work is a mystery to me. Quite frankly, bureaucrats aren’t held to, nor do they live by, the same set of standards as my wife and other professionals. Government employees don’t take an oath of privacy. They aren’t schooled on such matters. They aren’t licensed. They won’t lose their jobs or the support of their peers were they to breech confidentiality. Because of that lack of accountability and enforcement, there exists in volume the chance for corruptibility. Clerks and administrators at all levels of government will have ready access to all of your records. They may find humor or tragedy in your plight and share your stories with their loved ones, friends and coworkers. Your diseases, weight, and mental issues may become water cooler and dinner table conversation. And, let’s not forget: It’s a small world; word gets around.

Your privacy will be compromised and, without a doubt, other rights will follow suit. Are we really supposed to believe that the government will use your data only to hold HMOs to account? Just think about the scenarios that could be…

For starters, the federal government has declared war on obesity. What if, upon discovering reports that you and your children had high body mass indices, it forced your family into a healthy eating program and told you what you could and couldn’t eat under the auspices of “child protection”?

What if you were identified to have a mental illness that you kept in control? Couldn’t the government identify you as a threat, “just in case”?

Suppose you have a sexually transmitted disease. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think the feds would tell you that you couldn’t pursue a love life without the threat of prosecution.

These conspiracy theories could easily come true. Look at what happened with the Patriot Act and other anti-terror measures. They started off as simple systems that were supposed to protect Americans from international threats. Instead, they turned on the people and government - not religious fanatics - became the biggest threat to our liberties.

Similar abuses are guaranteed to come from the public sector’s ingestion of your personal matters. While HIPPA protects you from private sector mistreatment of your privacy, the Constitution guarantees the same when it comes to government involvement in your life. So, take the time to call Congress and ask them to focus on the constitutionality of the HHS measures and stop this federal nightmare from becoming a reality.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 03 October 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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