United States House of Representatives
Statement Introducing the Protect Patients' and Physicians' Privacy Act
May 21, 2009
Madam Speaker, I rise to introduce the Protect Patients’ and Physicians’ Privacy Act. This legislation protects medical privacy, as well as quality health care, by allowing patients and physicians to opt out of any federally mandated, created, or funded electronic medical records system. The bill also repeals the sections of federal law establishing a “unique health identifier” and requires patient consent before any electronic medical records can be released to a third party.
Congress has refused to fund the development of a unique health identifier every year since 1998. Clearly, the majority of my colleagues recognize the threat this scheme poses to medical privacy. It is past time for Congress to repeal the section of law authorizing the federal unique health identifier.
Among the numerous provisions jammed into the stimulus bill, which was rushed through Congress earlier this year, was funding for electronic medical records. Medicare providers have until 2015 to “voluntarily” adopt the system of electronic medical records, or face financial penalties.
One of the major flaws with the federally-mandated electronic record system is that is does not provide adequate privacy protection. Electronic medical records that are part of the federal system will only receive the protection granted by the federal “medical privacy rule.” This misnamed rule actually protects the ability of government officials and state-favored special interests to view private medical records without patient consent.
Even if the law did not authorize violations of medical privacy, patients would still have good reason to be concerned about the government’s ability to protect their medical records. After all, we are all familiar with cases where third parties obtained access to electronic veteran, tax, and other records because of errors made by federal bureaucrats. My colleagues should also consider the abuse of IRS records by administrations of both parties and ask themselves what would happen if unscrupulous politicians gain the power to access their political enemies’ electronic medical records.
As an OB/GYN with over 30 years of experience in private practice, I understand that one of the foundations of quality health care is the patient's confidence that all information the patient shares with his or her health care provider will remain confidential. As an OB/GYN with over 30 years of experience in private practice, I understand that a physician’s ability to provide effective treatment often depends on a patients’ trust that all personal information divulged to a physician will remain confidential. Forcing physicians to place their patients’ medical records in a system without adequate privacy protection undermines that confidence, and thus undermines effective medical treatment.
A physician opt out is also necessary in order to allow physicians to escape from the inefficiencies and other problems that are sure to occur in the implementation and management of the federal system. Contrary to the claims of the mandatory system’s proponents, it is highly unlikely an efficient system of mandatory electronic health records can be established by the government.
Many health technology experts have warned of the problems that will accompany the system of mandatory electronic medical records. For example, David Kibbe, a top technology adviser to the American Academy of Family Physicians, warned President Obama in an open letter late last year that existing medical software is often poorly designed and does a poor job of exchanging information. Allowing physicians to opt out provides a safety device to ensure that physicians can avoid the problems that will inevitably accompany the government-mandated system.
Madam Speaker, allowing patients and providers to opt out of the electronic medical records system will in no way harm the practice of medicine or the development of an efficient system of keeping medical records. Instead, it will enhance these worthy goals by ensuring patients and physicians can escape the inefficient, one-size-fits-all government–mandated system. By creating a market for alternatives to the government system, the op-out ensures that private businesses can work to develop systems that meet the demands for an efficient system of electronic records that protects patients’ privacy. I urge my colleagues to stand up for privacy and quality health care by cosponsoring the Protect Patients’ and Physicians’ Privacy Act.