Rep. Joe Barton revealed Thursday that he is one the heart patients whose medical records were on an unencrypted laptop stolen from a National Institutes of Health researcher.
While all 3,000 or so patients are likely anxious about having their privacy compromised, the Ennis lawmaker is in a unique position to do something about it. He’s the senior Republican — and former chairman — of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has broad oversight authority over NIH and scores of other agencies.
On Thursday, Barton and a GOP colleague sent the Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general a letter demanding an investigation of the theft, and explanations for why the personal data wasn’t encrypted as required, and why over a month passed before NIH notified Barton and other patients about the breech.
Barton had a heart attack in December 2005 during budget negotiations at the Capitol.
The laptop was assigned to a researcher who is studying the use of MRI scans to help heart patients avoid surgery. He’d left it in the trunk of his car. It was stolen Feb. 23 in Germantown, Md., a distant suburb of Washington, but the NIH didn’t notify Barton and others whose privacy was compromised until last week.