ACLU Recommends Privacy Protections for Successful Health IT Implementation

January 15, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions meets today for a hearing on implementing health IT systems, the American Civil Liberties Union cautions that failure to include privacy safeguards would keep the American public from adopting and participating in these systems. The full committee hearing, titled “Investing in Health IT: A Stimulus for a Healthier America,” seeks to examine the possibility that funds for implementing health IT systems be included in the economic stimulus package being proposed by the incoming administration and the new Congress.

“Privacy protections are a necessity for the American consumer to get behind the transition to digital medical records and IT systems,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “If not, abuse will surely occur and America will enter an age of ‘medical profiling,’ where people will have difficulties getting insurance or obtaining a job because their medical histories have been sold to the highest bidder. The public would then have the incentive to give false medical information to their care providers or – even worse – avoid medical care altogether. These scenarios can and should be avoided by Congress.”

Just yesterday, the ACLU, along with partner organizations in the Coalition for Privacy Rights, held a news conference on Capitol Hill where they issued a letter to Congress urging the inclusion of privacy protections with any health IT legislation.

“There is widespread agreement, from the ACLU to Microsoft to consumer organizations, that health IT can and should move forward, but only with the proper safeguards in place,” added Timothy Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Without protections for medical privacy, the American public will distrust health IT and choose not to participate. It is far easier – and far less costly – for the privacy concerns to be addressed now, during initial implementation, than doing so down the road after a major privacy gaffe occurs.”

“America does not allow for the sale of blood or organs – nor can we allow the sale of personal medical records, which would occur without the proper safeguards,” continued Sparapani. “There are many companies within the healthcare arena that would pay outlandish amounts of money to have access to our most private information – information that, if released, could have far-reaching consequences. Bills from the House of Representatives contain important protections, including prohibiting the sale of medical records. The ACLU calls on Congress to ensure privacy requirements are tied to any funding provided for the integration of health IT systems.”

To view the Coalition for Patient Privacy’s letter to Congress, go to:

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