Oct. 18, 2000
It's hard to find an issue on which government officials are more
out of touch with the American people than the matter of medical
privacy, also known as electronic profiling. A new Gallup survey shows
that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want the government
or any third parties to have access to their medical records without
their permission, but government and third parties have nevertheless
been stockpiling information on their electronic databases just as fast
as you can say dot com.
The Gallup survey found that 92 percent of Americans oppose
allowing government agencies to see their medical records without their
permission, and 91 percent oppose assigning everybody a medical
identification number, similar to a social security number, in order to
store your medical records on a national database.
Assigning individual medical identification numbers is what makes
a national database possible. This was an essential part of the
infamous 1994 nationalized health care bill which the public and
Congress rejected and which was so resented by the voters that it
helped to elect the landmark Republican Congress.
When President Clinton made his television appeal for his health
bill, he held up a card which he said would be everyone's health
security card to guarantee access to care. The fine print on that card
carried a number to identify each American's entire health record on a
After the defeat of his 1994 bill, which would have meant a total
takeover of the health industry, Clinton adopted an incremental
strategy. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act, known as Kennedy-Kassebaum, authorizes the Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS) to assign "unique health care identifiers" to
all Americans so that the government can electronically tag, track and
monitor our personal medical records.
Due to grassroots lobbying, the 1998 Consolidated Appropriations
Act put a temporary moratorium on individual health identifiers "until
legislation is enacted specifically approving the standard." HHS has
so far been unable to proceed with this project because Congress has
refused to appropriate the funding.
During 1999, Congress wrangled over various privacy bills without
coming to any agreement. When Congress failed to meet a deadline of
August 21, 1999, the authority to write regulations passed to HHS
Secretary Donna Shalala, who then issued a controversial 400+ page
regulation for public comment.
The American people instinctively rebel against the government
having access to all our personal medical records because it conveys
ominous power to control our lives. The Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) is already trying to build an electronic database of children's
immunizations so that admission to daycare, school, college or even
medical care can be denied to anyone who has not been injected with the
government-specified number of shots.
Lacking the power to do this directly, the CDC is trying to
persuade or bribe the states to build their own databases of children's
medical records and then share their vaccine registries with the CDC.
HHS offers each Governor a bounty of $50, $75 or $100 per child if the
state registry shows that 50 percent, 75 percent or 90 percent of
children, respectively, are fully immunized.
The 1999 Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations bill requires "all
babies" born in hospitals to get a "hearing screening before leaving
the birthing facility," requires the states "to collect data," and
instructs the CDC to "promote the sharing of data" with other
"monitoring programs." An electronic database of individual medical
records is what proves compliance and enables the government to impose
additional medical regulations.
While individual medical records in the hands of the government
give bureaucrats the power to compel Americans' behavior and to deny
benefits, the same personal information is very valuable commercially
to third parties. Pharmacies, insurance companies and employers are
now building electronic databases of individual medical records.
Americans have good reason to fear that private medical records,
including genetic information, can be blueprints for genetic red-lining
to deny insurance or jobs. The Gallup survey found that 93 percent of
Americans do not want genetic information to be available to anyone
without their consent.
We urgently need state and federal privacy legislation to prevent
government or corporations from using personal information for purposes
other than that for which the individuals provided it. Such
legislation is opposed by the corporations that compile electronic
databases because they are such tremendous financial assets.
The corporations are even lobbying for legislation to give them a
new property right, akin to a copyright, to own, manage and control
their databases of personal information, including medical records.
One pending bill would, for example, make medical charts detailing our
visits to our doctors the property of corporations, protected by the
threat of heavy criminal penalties to be imposed on anyone who
interferes with their ownership.
The Gallup survey, released September 27, was commissioned by the
Institute for Health Freedom, a nonprofit think tank in Washington,