President-elect Barack Obama’s plan to link up doctors and hospitals with new information technology, as part of an ambitious job-creation program, is imperiled by a bitter, seemingly intractable dispute over how to protect the privacy of electronic medical records.
Lawmakers, caught in a crossfire of lobbying by the health care industry and consumer groups, have been unable to agree on privacy safeguards that would allow patients to control the use of their medical records.
Does that mean they can’t figure out whose side they should be on?
In a speech outlining his economic recovery plan, Obama said, “We will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years all of America’s medical records are computerized.” Digital medical records could prevent medical errors, save lives and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, Obama has said.
So far, the only jobs created have been for a small army of lobbyists trying to secure money for health information technology. They say doctors, hospitals, drugstores and insurance companies would be much more efficient if they could exchange data instantaneously through electronic health information networks. Consumer groups and some members of Congress insist that the new spending must be accompanied by stronger privacy protections in an era when digital data can be sent around the world or posted on the Web with the click of a mouse.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for insurers, expressed “serious concern about privacy provisions being considered for inclusion in the economic stimulus bill.”
What that means in English is that the insurance companies – and their beddy-buddies in Health Care – would rather maximize every cent of profit and screw the privacy of patients.