Americans are increasing their calls for lawmakers to fight Obamacare because of worries over an abundance of personal information that soon will be in the government’s hands.
The Healthcare.gov website calls for information such as name, address, Social Security number and income, while Obamacare will implement online medical records that include details about ailments, conditions, mental state, drug use, gun ownership and other personal details.
That has people worried that the sum total of information could be mishandled by the government, or worse yet, be let loose. There were more than 12.6 million victims of identity theft in the U.S. last year, and the federal government’s collection of Americans’ personal health and financial data offers a treasure trove of possibilities for criminals.
This week, the Los Angeles Times reported an Alahambra, Calif., medical clinic admitted that two laptops that contained more than 700,000 patient medical records were stolen during an office break-in.
The thieves have not been caught.
“We regret any inconvenience or concern this incident may cause our patients,” AHMC Healthcare Inc. said in a statement.
The medical clinic told patients to place fraud alerts on their credit files.
The highly sensitive nature of the doctor-patient relationship is one reason why there was resistance by lawmakers to force doctors to go to all-electronic records. Under the new requirements, the government will inquire into virtually every recess of what has been considered private.
Doctors will ask patients and their children questions such as “Is there a gun in your home?” and “Are you depressed?” The answers will be added to a patient’s medical data and subsequently to each American’s government file.
Agencies like the IRS will also be handed the personal data from those supervising health care.
This week, it was revealed that the Obamacare website informs users that their Social Security number, birthday and income will all be shared with the IRS, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Administration.
The controversy already has generated a back-and-forth in Congress, where a Colorado Democrat, Diana DeGette, criticized a Republican for having concerns about privacy.
U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, had charged that the source code for the Obamacare website includes the statement that Americans will have “no reasonable expectation of privacy about communication or data stored on the system.”
The code cannot be viewed by a user on Healthcare.gov, he reported, but it is in the code and violates the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
“You know it’s not HIPAA-compliant; admit it,” Barton charged Cheryl Campbell of CGI Federal, which was contracted to work on the site. “You’re under oath. Your company is the company that put this together. We’re telling every American … that you sign up for this or even attempt to, you have no expectation of privacy. That is a direct contradiction of HIPAA and you know it.”
Until now, doctor-patient privacy has been maintained with paper patient files and flip charts. The sales pitch to get lawmakers to coerce doctors and hospitals to go with electronic records initially met stiff resistance.
But the argument was that the paper record system had flaws. Patients were filling prescriptions from one doctor that were contra-indicated by a prescription from another doctor, which could have tragic outcomes.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed the idea of electronic records. He described how Hurricane Katrina displaced Louisiana residents, many of whom had to spend months away from home.
While they could go to a Jiffy Lube and find their car records there, medical records, limited to one location, had been destroyed by the hurricane, he explained.
What Gingrich and lawmakers didn’t anticipate was Obamacare.
Bruce Schneier, security technologist and fellow at the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society, told WND medical privacy is “one of the most difficult issues in the information age.”
“The information is incredibly valuable to society – not just to deliver health care, but for research purposes – yet highly personal,” he said. “We have to figure out how to navigate between these two poles and how to secure the data however it is stored. It’s not going to be easy.”
California state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, candidate for governor of California, reported to WND that people “are being hit from two directions, and it is hard to say which is more dangerous.”
“People are being forced by Obamacare to hand over every bit of their most private data to the government,” he said. “Literally every major branch of government will have access to use that data as they please. Now we learn that the same data can be taken by thieves from any local healthcare facility, simply by stealing a laptop. With these rules, privacy, as Americans have known it, is gone.”
Donnelly warned of “corrupt bureaucrats and politicians using the collected data against political opponents.”
Mitt Romney’s private contribution to the National Organization for Marriage was leaked by an IRS agent. The breach was turned into a campaign issue, but no one has ever been prosecuted.
The recent NSA data-mining scandal brought to light how many contractors have access to government data and how that data can be leaked for the entire world to see.
One of the biggest fears for Americans has always been the IRS audit. People have joked and many have charged that if you criticize the government, you might be audited. Politicians claim the thinking to be the fodder of paranoid conspiracy theorists.
Dr. Dathan Paterno of Park Ridge Psychological Services, told WND that he is concerned with how these data may be used in the hands of the government.
“Now, if you run for office, for example, someone could leak your private medical information or what was disclosed 10 years ago to a psychologist, and you could be ruined,” he said.
Paterno asked: Who would run for public office or even step forward to criticize the government knowing this?”
Privacy experts point out that Democrats who control the administration have all of the data now, but in a matter of time, Republicans could control it and use it to go after Democrats.
A top executive with a leading EMR company, who asked not to be identified, said the electronic files are here to stay. He insists that as with most advances in technology, it’s primarily a good thing.
He said electronic data provides better care, reduces redundancy and if pooled correctly with proper procedures to protect individuals’ rights, advances research.
But he said there can be problems “when Uncle Sam makes it mandatory, as it is in Obamacare.”
“The government has paid out over $16 billion in stimulus money to doctors and institutions to buy these systems,” he said. “And that is only the beginning. It will easily be five to eight times that by the time they are done.”
He noted that to qualify for the payments over a four to five year period, certain objectives must be met.
“First year it is pretty simple – collect certain demographics, age, race, etc. Each year it gets a little more complicated and more information needs to be collected.”
He said institutions “are basically being forced onto systems that are required to collect data and now Obamacare is forcing the individuals to supply all that info as well.”
“When the government offers $44,000 to $64,000 per doctor to buy these systems, it’s pretty enticing,” he said. “Even when most don’t really want to have anything to do with it.”
Doctors are enticed by Obamacare’s government payouts to convert to an electronic system. A medical practice can receive up to $44,000 in Medicare incentives and up to $63,750 in Medicaid incentives for every physician in that practice.
A payoff like that is hard to pass up, and those who still choose to put off converting to an electronic system will see penalties under the Affordable Care Act. A one-percent penalty on Medicare reimbursements begins in 2015 but increases each year. After time, up to 95 percent of Medicare reimbursements to practices will be withheld as a penalty for not converting to an electronic system.
Andy Lemons, an OB/GYN in Birmingham, Ala., told WND that most professionals don’t like being forced to do anything, especially when an untrustworthy government is acting in a “Big Brother role.”
“The safety of sensitive and private info should carry greater weight than the convenience,” he said. “I often could benefit from access to reliable past medical records, but surely a safer format exists.”
A major concern of Lemons is the way that insurance companies could use data against future applicants.
“What about future life insurance from a genetic issue that was previously assured to be confidential … what about your offspring who haven’t even applied for coverage, or policies? The abuse by agencies is a real threat, and the slope to its worsening is far too slippery.”
Lemons said he has heard stories of sexual orientation, gun ownership and other private issues being part of the questionnaires.
“The potential for misuse, and profiling is extreme … and accountability for violations has already proven lacking,” he said. “The remainder of the proverbial iceberg will likely prove worse.”