Class Action Raises Privacy Concerns Over |Stimulus Act’s Electronic Health Registry

     WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CN) – The Stimulus Act signed into law by President Obama jeopardizes the privacy rights of the 65 percent of Americans who aren’t on Medicaid or Medicare by requiring health-care providers to create an electronic health record of every person in the United States, a class action claims in Federal Court.

     Because Title XIII of the Stimulus Act aims to have everyone’s medical histories in the system by 2014, their personal health information would be a “mouse click away from being accessible to an intruder,” according to lead plaintiff Beatrice M. Heghmann, a health-care professional who has never been covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
     Heghmann sued Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann Deparle and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Charlene Frizzera.
     The registry would allegedly threaten the privacy of anyone who enrolled in the public health plan established by Sebelius, those not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, and anyone who ever has or will provide personal health information to his or her medical provider.
     Heghmann sued on behalf of members of this purported class.
     Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, doctors can only release the “minimum necessary information” to the government in special circumstances, such as an epidemic. Under the Stimulus Act, however, the authority to set that floor would fall to Sebelius instead of a doctor, the lawsuit claims. It also allows government officials to link a person’s medical information with other forms of personal identification, such as a driver’s license number or Social Security number, Heghmann says.
     She calls the registry plan a misguided attempt to lower health-care costs, noting that government could just as easily lower costs by requiring co-pays for Medicare patients or by limiting frivolous malpractice suits. She says the $22 billion earmarked for the electronic registry exists solely to obtain confidential health-care information.
     Heghmann, on behalf of the class, seeks an injunction to protect personal health information and to prevent the defendants from disbursing the $22 billion budgeted for the Electronic Health Records System.
     The class is represented by Robert Heghmann of Durham, N.H.

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