Don't Pry Into Our Intimate Secrets

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Statement
before the US House of Representatives 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.

See
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June
6, 2009

Dr. Ron
Paul is a Republican member of Congress from Texas.

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