Leaders in Congress Call Out TRICARE & SAIC

We congratulate the leaders in Congress, Reps Markey, Barton, DeGette, Stearns, and Andrews for calling TRICARE and SAIC on the carpet for not securing military families’ sensitive health data. See the letter here.

We hope this letter leads to Congressional oversight hearings into the industry-wide culture of disregard for the privacy of military personnel’s and all Americans’ sensitive electronic health information. The worst serial corporate abusers should be penalized and prevented from getting federal contracts. We need Congress to get to the roots of the industry-wide disregard for health privacy FAST, before millions more people are harmed, not just by medical identity theft, but by the use of health information to discriminate against them in employment, credit, and other key opportunities in life. Once health records are exposed, they can never be made private again.

It is well-known in the healthcare industry and by privacy advocates that about 80% of healthcare providers and the health IT corporations that manage health information have ignored federal laws requiring encryption and data security protection for years. Obviously, head-in-the-sand approaches to data security simply don’t make sense. Clearly it’s cheaper and easier for corporations to ignore the law and common sense than it is to protect our most sensitive personal information, from diagnoses to DNA.

The fact that SAIC has continued to get billions in funds from the federal government despite repeated breaches of sensitive health information shows also that the federal process of awarding, monitoring and auditing, and assuring performance of billion-dollar contracts needs investigation.

Providers, healthcare organizations, and technology companies that do not use state-of-the-art data security for health information should not be allowed to work in the healthcare field. If you are unwilling to protect patient data, you don’t belong in healthcare.

We also strongly support the proposal to make sure that victims of health data breaches receive effective state-of-the-art remediation. Victims should be able to use new technology that enables them to monitor all health insurance claims before they are submitted, so they can prevent the fraud and prevent other people’s health data from being added to their health records.

House to Defense Top Doc: What’s Up With TRICARE Theft?

Four members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and one member of the House Armed Services Committee want some answers from Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the Pentagon’s top medical official, about how the Defense Department handled the September theft of computer tapes containing the records of 4.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries from the car of an SAIC employee in San Antonio, Texas. Woodson is the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Activity, which was responsible for the data.

Woodson has been mum on this debacle since it unfolded, and in fact gave a speech in San Antonio the week after the theft was reported and, as far as I can determine, never addressed the issue…

…Last month, TRICARE directed SAIC to offer credit monitoring services to patients whose information was stored on the stolen tapes. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, an advocacy group based in Austin, Texas, says this does nothing to insure the safety of health care information on those tapes.

Peel, who sent me the Congressional letter to Woodson, said those patients should also be provided with new technology that allows them to monitor all health insurance claims before they are submitted, so they can prevent fraud as well as other people’s health data from being added to their health records.

See Patient Privacy Rights’ Press Release

Re: They’ve got an app for that

In response to Modern Healthcare’s article: They’ve got an app for that

On Feb 15th and 16th , the President’s Council on Science and Technology (PCAST) report was discussed in DC by the national HIT Policy PCAST Worgroup. A key PCAST recommendation was that data be meta-tagged for many uses—one key use is so patients can add tags that say: “do not disclose this sensitive data unless I say so”. Patient Privacy Rights and the Coalition for Patient Privacy have LONG argued that all health IT systems and data exchanges MUST restore patient control over the most sensitive personal information that exists: electronic health data.

We are glad to see privacy-enhancing technologies being demonstrated and used in the nation’s largest electronic health system: the military health system covering 9 million lives.

This story shows how the VA is actually ALREADY using data meta-tags so patients can control who sees what health data—see the video that goes along with the story below at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20110224/VIDEO/302249949/-1

DoD does WHAT?

It is fascinating that the DoD clearly believes it owns and can use the personal health information of 12 million active duty military personnel for whatever purpose it decides. In this case, the DoD is paying a for-profit corporation to do research on active duty military personnel without their consent.

Maybe when you join the military you lose all privacy and Constitutional rights. I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. If so, that is a steep price to pay to serve your country: losing all health privacy for yourself and your relatives forever. Do those who join the armed forces know they are signing up to become medical guinea pigs? Do they really understand the consequences for their futures and their families futures?

Many questions abound:

• Are the electronic records adequately secured? What a rich target: 12 million health records! What if enemies hack the privately held data base to learn about key military leaders?

• Will Phase Forward continue to use and sell the records for other purposes as HIPAA authorizes? Other data management corporations (such as Thomson Medstat) the government pays to perform fraud and waste audits obtain millions of health records that they later aggregate and sell to employers without anyone’s consent.

• Furthermore–this is clearly medical research without informed consent. That is simply unethical and illegal. The US signed the Declaration of Helsinki after WW II because Nazis did human research without consent. Back then America recognized the need for informed consent before research takes place. Today, the codes of research and medical ethics still require patients to give informed consent before personal records can be used or disclosed. Why is this project not being done with informed consent when new ‘smart’ electronic consent tools could make it easy, cheap, and fast to obtain informed consent and explain all the risks and consequences?

Review this article from the Washington Post’s Government Inc. Blog for more information:
Data Mining for DoD Health

Military health forum envisions clinical analytics — by Peter Buxbaum

David Winn is right, when you sign up for the military, you have to do whatever they say.

The problem is that the Administration and the federal government has the same thing in mind for every American–no control over access to PHI.

The payers think they own our PHI and should be able to do whatever they want with it–even though it’s both illegal and unethical. That is why industry is pressing Congress to pass an HIT bill without consumer control over access to PHI. BUT—people will lie or not participate in electronic health systems if their data is used without consent—which means we will never get the kind of research we want because the data analyzed will be incomplete and flawed.

Americans just want to be asked for consent for research and be sure that HIT systems are safe and secure.

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