Obama Policymakers Turn to Campaign Tools

Network of Supporters Tapped on Health-Care Issues
Barack Obama’s incoming administration has begun to draw on the high-tech organizational tools that helped get him elected to lay the groundwork for an attempt to restructure the U.S. health-care system.
Former senator Thomas A. Daschle, Obama’s point person on health care, launched an effort to create political momentum yesterday in a conference call with 1,000 invited supporters culled from 10,000 who had expressed interest in health issues, promising it would be the first of many opportunities for Americans to weigh in.

A New Voice in Online Privacy: Group Wants Tighter Rules for Collecting, Using Consumer Data

A group of privacy scholars, lawyers and corporate officials are launching an advocacy group today designed to help shape standards around how companies collect, store and use consumer data for business and advertising.

The group, the Future of Privacy Forum, will be led by Jules Polonetsky, who until this month was in charge of AOL’s privacy policy, and Chris Wolf, a privacy lawyer for law firm Proskauer Rose. They say the organization, which is sponsored by AT&T, aims to develop ways to give consumers more control over how personal information is used for behavioral-targeted advertising.

Internet companies have come under fire for tracking consumers’ online habits in order to tailor ads relevant to their interests. Lawmakers have held several hearings this year to examine online privacy protections.

Vital Signs: Examining Our Health Data

Ever wonder who sorts through all the data that powers your all-knowing health insurance company? Samuel A. McKinney did. McKinney was surprised to find a concerned letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield in his mailbox wondering why he had stopped taking his medication: Immediately consult a physician about your medication if it’s too expensive or causing side effects, the insurer advised. Trouble was, he had just filled the prescription.
So, he called and discovered that Resolution Health, a Columbia-based health analytics firm, was helping insurers keep closer tabs their members. Armed with a massive databases — medical and pharmacy claims, lab reports, provider reports and other statistics — Resolution analyzes personal health information. More than 1,000 computer algorithms dissect the data for millions of members, scanning for ways to cut costs, eliminate conflicting medications and avoid lapses in treatment.
When a problems are identified, letters, much like this one, are sent out to patients such as McKinney and their doctors.
As it turns out, Blue Cross wasn’t informed that McKinney, a retiree who lives in Salem, Ohio, gets his drugs through a military pension program.
McKinney forgave the oversight.

A Social Network for Your Doctor, Pharmacist and Insurer

Imagine a virtual health clinic: Your lung doctor and heart specialist can pull up your online medical profile and chat, via instant messenger, about your medications. You schedule checkups online, create a wellness journal or even rate your general practitioner.

WellNet Healthcare, a Bethesda health management company, is launching the beta version of this social network, Point to Point Healthcare, this month. Since 1994, WellNet has built its business collecting detailed data on employees’ medical and pharmacy activity so that companies can better evaluate their corporate health plans.

WellNet’s clients nationwide — including Washington-area firms such as Peterson Cos., Dewberry, and Kiplinger Washington Editors — will be among the first to test-drive the new system. It lets employees create a personal network uniting their insurance claims manager with multiple doctors and pharmacies to better coordinate treatments. An online concierge helps workers find new specialists, and a message system reminds them to pick up prescriptions.

Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent

Several Internet and broadband companies have acknowledged using targeted-advertising technology without explicitly informing customers, according to letters released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

And Google, the leading online advertiser, stated that it has begun using Internet tracking technology that enables it to more precisely follow Web-surfing behavior across affiliated sites.

The revelations came in response to a bipartisan inquiry of how more than 30 Internet companies might have gathered data to target customers. Some privacy advocates and lawmakers said the disclosures help build a case for an overarching online-privacy law.

Prescription Data Used To Assess Consumers’ Health “Scores”

Yesterday, The Washington Post featured an article describing what the authors called “a powerful new tool for evaluating whether to cover individual consumers: a health ‘credit report’ which is drawn from databases containing prescription drug records on more than 200 million Americans.” Pharmaceutical industry blog Pharmalot broke the story online, but as you might imagine, that did not represent the patient perspective of this practice.
Two of the biggest providers of this type of data are Ingenix, a Minnesota-based health information services company that had $1.3 billion in sales last year, and a Wisconsin-based rival named Milliman IntelliScript.

What You Should Know Before You Spit Into That Test Tube

Jeffrey Gulcher had no reason to think much about prostate cancer. He was just 48, and the disease typically strikes later in life. Even the most cautious medical groups agree that most men need not begin annual prostate screenings until age 50.
But Gulcher happens to be the chief scientific officer of deCODE Genetics — one of several companies that, amid some controversy, have begun offering direct-to-consumer DNA tests that can help people predict which diseases they are likely to get. So in April, he spat into a test tube and, without giving the matter much thought, sent the sample in for analysis by his own company.

Justice Breyer Is Among Victims in Data Breach Caused by File Sharing

Sometime late last year, an employee of a McLean investment firm decided to trade some music, or maybe a movie, with like-minded users of the online file-sharing network LimeWire while using a company computer. In doing so, he inadvertently opened the private files of his firm, Wagner Resource Group, to the public.

That exposed the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of about 2,000 of the firm’s clients, including a number of high-powered lawyers and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

The breach was not discovered for nearly six months. A reader of washingtonpost.com’s Security Fix <http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/>  blog found the information while searching LimeWire in June.

Services such as LimeWire, which are known as peer-to-peer networks, link computers directly, allowing users to swap digital movies, music and files with other users without the need of a central Web site to manage the exchange.

Data Breach Reports Up 69 Percent in 2008

Businesses, governments and universities reported a record number of data breaches in the first half of this year, a 69 percent increase over the same period in 2007 driven by a spike in data thefts attributed to employees and contractors, according to an analysis by identity theft experts.
The San Diego-based Identity Theft Resource Center tracked 342 data breach reports from Jan. 1 to June 27. Nearly 37 percent of reports came from businesses — an increase from almost 29 percent last year.

System of Neglect

As Tighter Immigration Policies Strain Federal Agencies, The Detainees in Their Care Often Pay a Heavy Cost
Near midnight on a California spring night, armed guards escorted Yusif Osman into an immigration prison ringed by concertina wire at the end of a winding, isolated road.