Uh oh is Big Brother raising its ugly head in healthcare management? Many privacy advocates are saying yes .
Their beef is with the federal Office of Personnel Management. The agency has been tasked with creating a comprehensive database of health insurance claim records for the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), the newly established National Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program and the forthcoming Multi-State Option Plan by President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Last month the OPM told various media sources that a central database would be the “best value for both enrollees and taxpayers” as such a system will enable them to manage the various programs more efficiently.
The OPM insist that all the data will be de-indentified but they have so far been rather vague about what exactly that will entail. And that is what has some people rather worried. “There are far too many unknowns about the program for it to be acceptable,” at this point, Harley Geiger, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told ComputerWorld in a recent interview.
The CDT and fifteen other organizations have now put their concerns in writing in the form of a letter to OPM Director John Berry. In the letter they express a number of concerns over the agency’s lack of actual policy. They go on to suggest that a central database is not necessary and express concern over a plan to make data available to third-party researchers and analysts and for certain law enforcement and judicial purposes.
“The government, researchers and covered entities already possess the necessary authority to carry out the described uses for the warehouseʼs data. Rather than duplicate sensitive enrollee information by copying it into the warehouse, government agencies and researchers could access data already routinely collected in the ordinary course of business by the health plans participating in the affected insurance programs,” the letter states.
Whether or not the letter will have any impact remains to be seen. There is no set timeline for the creation of the database at this time.