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Electronic health records bill raises serious privacy concerns

July 27, 2006
Contact: Susan Herold, Consumers Union, 202-462-6262
Myra Clark-Siegel, National Partnership for Women & Families, 202/986-2600

Nation’s Leading Consumer, Patient Groups Raise Serious Concerns About House Electronic Health Records Bill

Groups Encourage Lawmakers to Promote Health Information Technology, But Warn that H.R. 4157 Falls Short

WASHINGTON, DC – A coalition of 13 of the nation’s top consumer and patient organizations warned House leaders that the Health Information Technology Promotion Act (HR 4157) – scheduled for a floor vote today – will not measurably improve the nation’s healthcare system and may erode consumer confidence that their private medical information will be adequately protected.
The groups urged the House to adopt a measure similar to the Senate version of the bill, the Wired for Healthcare Quality Act, and to include stronger privacy protections. Such a bill would more effectively move the U.S. toward an electronic health records system.
“We urgently need to expand the use and interoperability of health information technology (HIT) to improve the quality, safety and efficiency of healthcare. This technology should enable us to collect information about quality and efficiency and give consumers better information on which to base their healthcare decisions,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness. “Unfortunately, this bill does not deliver on the promise of HIT (Health Information Technology). The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that ‘H.R. 4157 would not significantly affect either the rate at which the use of health technology will grow or how well that technology will be designed and implemented.’ We need to move forward and enable electronic health information exchange, but we need to get it right.”
The coalition sent a letter yesterday to every member of the House of Representatives Click here to read the letter.
It was signed by the National Partnership for Women & Families; AFL-CIO; Center for Medical Consumers; Childbirth Connection; Communications Workers of America; Consumers Union; Healthcare for All; Health Privacy Project; International Union, United Auto Workers; National Consumers League; National Health Law Program, Inc.; Service Employees International Union; and The Title II Community AIDS National Network.
“Some provisions of H.R. 4157 could eventually take us backward, jeopardizing privacy protections that states have already put in place,” said Janlori Goldman, Director of the Health Privacy Project. “While we are relieved that a dangerous state law pre-emption provision was removed, we are nonetheless concerned that H.R. 4157 puts in place a process – beginning with a study likely to be skewed against consumers – that could eliminate critically important state laws and regulations that protect patient privacy. We must build on the protections already in place, not erase them and put consumers at risk.”
The coalition is also concerned that the statutory exemptions from the physician self-referral and anti-kickbacks laws would skew healthcare services and drive up costs.
“We are deeply concerned that the House bill creates loopholes in the nation’s anti-fraud laws that will lead to excessive and unnecessary referrals of patients to hospitals that may not be the best for them,” added Bill Vaughan, Senior Policy Analyst at Consumers Union. “The best way to promote the spread of health information technology is through good old fashion grants and loans, not loopholes.”
In addition to the letter, group leaders are sharing their concerns with Members of Congress and continuing to work toward enactment of legislation that accelerates the nationwide use of health information technology without jeopardizing important consumer safeguards.