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Health Freedom Watch
May 2005


Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich Support Legislation That Could Increase Medical Privacy Risks

Senator Hillary Clinton (Dem.-NY) joined former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in support of medical information technology legislation that could lead to increased risk of invasions of privacy and possibly identity theft if appropriate protections are not provided, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR).

The legislation [H.R. 2234], introduced [May 10] by Representatives Patrick Kennedy (Dem.-RI) and Tim Murphy (Rep.-PA), will create huge databases containing a patient's medical information including illnesses and genetic predispositions, alcohol and drug addiction, the medications the patient receives, and most likely, personal identifier information like Social Security Numbers. The bill requires health information networks funded through new technology grants to allow patients to "opt out" of including their information in medical databases but fails to hold database operators accountable when information is inappropriately accessed.

"While better medical technology can save lives and money, this legislation puts consumers at risk of invasions of privacy and possibly identity theft," said Jerry Flanagan of FTCR. "At a time when information brokers buy and sell our private information to the highest bidder, database managers must be held accountable when identity thieves take advantage of lax security precautions and make our private information public....

"In light of major security breaches at information warehousers like ChoicePoint, any legislation to expand the use of medical databases must have significant protections built-in so that patients are not forced to face new threats to their privacy," said Flanagan.

Source: Reprint of press release of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), May 11, 2005.

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What All Americans Should Consider Regarding H.R. 2234

Imagine the following scenario: In 2008 you visit your general practitioner. You want to pay cash for your visit and maintain truly private paper medical records. Your physician, whom you've been seeing for more than 20 years and with whom you've built a trusting relationship, says she would very much like to honor your wishes, but she can't. The reason is that in order to continue treating Medicare patients (which constitute 50 percent of her practice), she is required to maintain electronic medical records and submit claims to the federal government-for all her patients.

Sound farfetched? It shouldn't. Medicare is the largest single payer of health care in the United States and the world. Given the government's large purchasing power, it can essentially mandate the practice of most physicians. And with the forthcoming retirement of the baby boomers, tomorrow's physicians will find that an ever-greater share of their practices are Medicare patients.

All Americans should consider carefully the unintended consequences of establishing taxpayer financed regional health-information networks, the objective of H.R. 2234. Here are some important issues to consider:

  • The bill purports to prohibit the creation of a national database. But since it fosters the linking of data, it essentially creates a de facto national database. Creating an "interoperable" (linkable) network of databases is a way of establishing a national database while pretending not to!
  • Under the proposed legislation, Americans' health information will be subject to the federal medical-privacy rule, which eliminates patient consent in the sharing of personal information. In other words, once individuals provide information to a regional network, they will have no say in how it is used for many purposes.
  • The legislation claims to give patients the option of allowing only designated providers to see information concerning sexually transmitted disease, addiction, and mental illness. But unless patients have the absolute freedom to opt out of an electronic medical-records system and decide who can access their medical records for all purposes, their privacy cannot be guaranteed.
  • H.R. 2234 also allows patients to exclude their information from a data network. But what about their physicians? Will they be required to submit data about patients to Medicare or other government agencies?
  • The bill directs the secretary of health and human services to establish a method for paying doctors and hospitals that provide services under Medicare. Thus doctors could be coerced into participating in the regional, that is, de facto national, networks through the government's manipulation of Medicare fees.

The legislators who introduced H.R. 2234 undoubtedly are striving to help improve the U.S. health-care system. For example, the bill's findings point out that "preventable health care acquired infections cost $4.5 billion per year and contributed to more than 88,000 deaths-one death every 6 minutes." They also note that "A study by the Rand Corporation found that patients receive recommended care only about 55 percent of the time." The legislation calls for the development of a "clearinghouse of best [medical] practices."

But what legislators seem to ignore is that human error can occur with technology too. In fact, in some cases technology can increase the speed at which errors occur. For example, because of human error at Florida Hospital 300 patients' medical information was faxed to a wrong number. The records included medical data, birth dates, and Social Security numbers.

Regardless of good intentions, the bottom line is that unless all Americans are free to maintain private contracts with physicians and other health-care providers, and unless physicians are free to accept private payment from patients (without being penalized under Medicare), individuals can't exercise their right to health privacy-a precious liberty that freedom-loving citizens cherish and want restored.

Source: H.R. 2234, "21st Century Health Information Act of 2005," May 10, 2005. To read the complete bill, visit the congressional legislative database and search for the bill number.

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71 Percent of Older Adults Use Alternative Medicine

Nearly three out of every four adults over age 50 use some kind of alternative medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal medicine, according to a new study.

While previous research has been limited, this appears to be a higher rate than occurs within the general population, said Gong-Soog Hong, co-author of the study and professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University. This study found that 71 percent of older adults used some form of alternative medicine in 2000. A study done in 2002, found a lower rate-about 62 percent-among all adults. "The percentage of older adults who used alternative medicine was higher than I expected," Hong said....

The researchers used data from the 2000 Health and Retirement Survey, conducted by the University of Michigan and funded mainly by the National Institute on Aging. The survey included 848 respondents aged 50 and over.

The survey asked about the use of six types of alternative medicine:

  • chiropractic,
  • acupuncture,
  • massage therapy,
  • breathing exercises,
  • herbal medicine, and
  • meditation.

The most commonly used form of alternative medicine was chiropractic, which about 43 percent of respondents had used. Acupuncture was the least used.

Some of the results will need more research to explain, Hong said. For example, the findings showed blacks, widows, and more religious people all tended to use alternative medicine more often than did other older adults. Other results were more readily understandable.

Respondents were more likely to use alternative medicine if they said they were in poor health and if they reported more problems with daily activities, such as carrying groceries, eating or bathing. Of those who described their health as poor, 65 percent said they used some form of alternative medicine they considered preventive or curative-a higher percentage than among any other group. And about 63 percent of respondents who said they were not satisfied with their health care also tried alternative therapies classified as preventive or curative.

"Older adults tend to have more chronic illnesses, and conventional medicine doesn't always solve their problems," Hong said. The aches and pains that often come with age may also send more older adults to search for different kinds of treatments. "Treatment of chronic pain is very difficult," she said. "People who are living with pain will try everything possible to alleviate it. Those taking a holistic approach toward life may try something else such as alternative medicine." However, the exact reasons why these older adults used alternative medicine is not known from this research and needs further study, Hong said.

The fact that those who were less satisfied with their health care were more likely to use alternative medicine does suggest some people have issues with the current state of conventional health care.

Hong said the medical establishment has begun studying alternative medicine and has begun to accept some forms of non-traditional medicine....

Source: Reprint of press release of Ohio State University, distributed April 9, 2005.

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Health Freedom Watch is published by the Insitute for Health Freedom. Editor: Sue Blevins; Assistant Editor: Deborah Grady. Copyright 2005 Institute for Health Freedom.