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Economic Stimulus Law Weakens Americans' Control Over Personal Health Information
Date:3/26/2009

WASHINGTON, March 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While it is touted as a major tool for lowering health care costs, the Electronic Health Record (EHR) has serious implications for Americans' health privacy. The Institute for Health Freedom (IHF) warns that the economic stimulus law (H.R. 1, Public Law No. 111-5) weakens individuals' control over the flow of their personal health information. "The economic stimulus law plans for every American to use an electronic health record (EHR) and allows those records to be sold for research and public-health purposes -- without patients' consent," said Sue Blevins, IHF president.

"According to some health IT experts, we're entering a 'gold rush' era for health data," Blevins noted. "Sophisticated data-management techniques make it increasingly easy to share individuals' most sensitive health data -- including genetic information -- without their knowing it. The EHR further enables this sharing. That is why addressing patient ownership and consent rights are essential. Such rights will determine whether Americans will either 'own or be owned, control or be controlled' when it comes to their genetic and other personal health data."

"Unfortunately, the economic stimulus law does not guarantee that individuals own and control their genetic and other personal health data. Thus, Congress should act soon to make sure Americans have individual ownership rights and full control over their personal health data as we move toward adopting EHR systems," she said.

IHF released a side-by-side comparison of key aspects of the federal HIPAA privacy rule and the privacy provisions in the economic stimulus law (see: http://www.forhealthfreedom.org/Newsletter/March2009.html#Article2).

The comparison shows clearly that the new law does not give citizens final say in who can access their personal health information. "As it stands, the HIPAA law allows individuals' data to be disclosed to more than 600,000 health-related organizations -- without patients' consent. And the economic stimulus law did not close this huge gap," noted Blevins. "Let's hope Congress fixes this soon by ensuring ownership rights and patient-consent rights regarding the disclosure of Americans' personal health information -- including genetic information."

Moreover, IHF points out that most members of Congress didn't have time to read the economic stimulus bill before voting on it. And President Obama didn't read the bill in its entirety before signing it into law, according to a CBS News report. "IHF urges Congress and President Obama to read thoroughly future bills before voting and signing them into law. Also, the American public should receive at least one week to study proposed laws so they can share their informed views with their elected officials. Our health privacy rights are vital and deserve thoughtful and well-informed policymaking," Blevins said.

The Institute for Health Freedom (IHF) (www.ForHealthFreedom.org) is national nonprofit, educational organization whose mission is to bring the issues of personal health freedom to the forefront of the American health-policy debate. IHF monitors and reports on national policies that affect citizens' freedom to choose their health-care treatments and providers, and to maintain their health privacy -- including genetic privacy.

    Sue Blevins, President
    ph: (202) 429-6610


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SOURCE Institute for Health Freedom
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