Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich Team Up on Medical Data Bill

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In the “who’d-a-thunk-it” column, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has joined forces with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in support of legislation that would reduce the paperwork involved in medical record-keeping.

Appearing together at a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, the liberal Democrat and conservative Republican joked about their unlikely alliance. “I find he and I have a lot in common in the way we see the problems that we’re going to have to deal with in order to have a 21st-century health care system,” press reports quoted Sen. Clinton as saying.

Making their joint appearance even more interesting is speculation that both may run for president in 2008. Gingrich is now on a three-day visit to Iowa and has said he might run. Sen. Clinton says she is focused on winning re-election to the Senate in 2006, but just about everyone expects her to seek her party’s presidential nomination after that.

The legislation that brought Clinton and Gingrich together is the 21st Century Health Information Act, introduced by Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).

As Gingrich put it, the bill would get the “paper” out of the medical system by moving patients’ health information to computer databases, where it could be accessed by various medical professionals – doctors, nurses, pharmacists.

“Paper kills,” Gingrich said. “This is not complicated. If you see paper in the health system, it risks killing people.”

Supporters say the bill would save money and time, reduce medical errors and streamline the billing process. But opponents say it raises the prospect of privacy invasions and identity theft.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer advocacy organization, warns that the “huge databases” envisioned by the bill would contain information on a patient’s illnesses, genetic predispositions, alcohol and drug addiction, medication history, and probably “personal identifier information,” such as a Social Security Number.

Although the bill allows patients to opt out of having their information included in a medical database, it does not hold database operators accountable when information is inappropriately accessed, FTCR said in a press release.

“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,” said FTCR’s Jerry Flanagan.

“In light 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,” Flanagan concluded.

FTCR is the group that dramatized identity theft two years ago, by going on-line to purchase the Social Security Numbers of top Bush administration officials.

Consumer Watchdog
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