Privacy concerns grow over health IT bill

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In late July the U.S. House of Representatives passed a health IT bill (H.R. 4157) that would seek to promote technology adoption in healthcare — such as electronic medical records and other systems — to improve care, reduce medical errors, and ease the exchange of essential health information. The bill also would take the approach of implementing standards and other means to facilitate IT adoption.
          
But though likely to pass through Congress very soon, it is now facing some opposition due to what some view as holes in the legislation that could lead to risking patient privacy. Much of the opposition is coming from Democrats but also privacy advocates, consumer groups and civil libertarians, the Los Angeles Times reports. 
          
Privacy advocates are calling for stronger privacy rules to be added to the legislation, such as allowing patients to control who sees their records and to give them the choice of opting out of electronic health systems. Much of the concern is in response to the recent breaches of security at the Department of Veterans Affairs where a stolen laptop with sensitive patient information was stolen from an employee’s home. Some feel that the legislation should require that agencies notify patients of a security breach, and in such instances patients should be empowered to take legal action, the Times reports.
          
On the flip side, some believe that current federal laws concerning medical information privacy already provide enough protection for consumers. While a Senate version of this legislation was unanimously approved, it was the House version that provoked highly partisan fights regarding technical, legal, and privacy disagreements. In the end House Republicans overruled the concerns of Democrats, the Times reports.
          
Despite the scuffle, when the legislation passed the House there was widespread support, including from the private sector as well as the White House. A RAND Corp. analysis indicated changes such as the ones called for in the bills could save the industry an estimated $81 billion annually.
          
Opponents reject the idea that they are trying to impede the legislation just to impede it. "I want medical science to go forward," said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. the Times reports, "as long as we take care that what we are going to do is not going to expose people’s privacy."
          
It’s not just Democrats that are raising fears, a number of labor unions and consumer organizations would like to see more protections than what can be found thus far in the different versions of the bill.
          
Another hot button item in the House legislation is the call to bypass anti-kickback laws, in some cases, in order to ease the process by which hospitals and other healthcare facilities can give electronic records systems to physicians.