Those wishing to weigh in on a proposed national database of individuals’ health information have only a few more days to do so.


Those wishing to weigh in on a proposed national database of individuals’ health information have only a few more days to do so.
On Oct. 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will close the comment period on a proposed rule that would create a governmental database of Americans’ health data. It remains unclear precisely what sort of data would be collected or how it would be obtained. Thus far, the department has not clarified such details.
The rule was first proposed in July, with comments originally accepted through late September. The comment period was extended to Oct. 31 shortly before the deadline.
If approved, the rule would collect information through one of three means: By having insurance companies send information directly to the federal government; by requiring states to collect data from insurers, or; by requiring insurers to calculate statistics based on the information they already possess and submit the consolidated data to the federal government.
1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., has been vocal in his opposition to passage of proposed rule in any form, submitting editorials to The Washington Examiner and Kansas newspapers and appearing on Fox News to speak out against it. Huelskamp has collaborated with other representatives in an effort to stop the rule from being instated.
“I have very big concerns about confidentiality and privacy with medical data that does not belong in the hands of the government,” Huelskamp told The Sentinel. “I’m still trying to find a single Kansan who thinks this is a good idea.”
Central to congressional opposition to the rule is its ambiguity in defining precisely what kinds of records would be recorded. While its wording clearly explains its purpose — to provide information that would make insurance risk adjustments easier as a part of the Affordable Care Act — the kind of information that would be used in such adjustments remains unclear.
Huelskamp underlined the uncertainty of the rule’s scope during a news conference earlier this month.
“HHS offers no explanation in the rule of what information will be required and what will be excluded,” he said.
His concerns were echoed in a letter sent by Huelskamp and 40 other representatives, including District 2 and 4 Reps. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., and Mike Pompeo R-Kan, to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, responded to Huelskamp’s charges against the rule, and specifically its applicability to Medicare and Medicaid, in a blog post on www.healthcare.gov.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “does not propose that States collect personal data such as name, social security number or address for the risk adjustment program,” Larsen said. “CMS will not require States to collect your medical record or information that identifies your doctor; nor would the Federal government collect this information.”
While the access that the rule would provide to government personnel is a primary concern of those in Congress who oppose it, their concern also returns to a deep distrust of the ability of the federal government to protect sensitive information. Other lawmakers have expressed a mistrust of the government’s ability to keep information collected in the database safe.
In challenging the potential risk to such records, Huelskamp cited previous data breaches as indicative of the governments inability to adequately protect digital information.
“By our count, some 550 million records have been exposed by state governments, the federal government, or private entities charged with protecting government-owned information,” Huelskamp said. “Obviously this is double the population of the U.S., which means that many people have fallen victim to more than one breach of their data.”
Representatives plan to block funding to the measure through the House Appropriations Committee. Huelskamp has the support of several members of the committee and says he thinks the House will be able to successfully interrupt funding to the database.
Those interested in submitting a comment on the proposed rule can do so by visiting its response page at 1.usa.gov/mcphersonhhs2.