Patient Privacy Is at Risk in Case before U.S. Supreme Court, AAPS Tells Court


Patient privacy is under siege, and the latest intrusion is by States that are building massive databases of patient records. About 16 States want to be Big Brother in constructing health care databases to monitor their residents. This puts patients’ privacy at grave risk of disclosures that could ruin their careers.

A federal appellate court, the Second Circuit, had blocked enforcement of Vermont’s database requirement against Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, and the court properly cited privacy concerns as a reason. “Vermont requires ERISA plans to record, in specified format, massive amounts of claims information and to report that information to third parties, creating significant (and obvious) privacy risks and financial burdens,” the Second Circuit held.

But Vermont appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted cert in Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insur. Co., No. 14-181.

Today the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, in support of patient privacy. AAPS urges the Court to protect patient privacy by dismissing the appeal.

“Privacy of patient medical records cannot be protected in these massive government databases,” observes AAPS General Counsel Andrew Schlafly. “Hacking is widespread, and studies have shown that it is easy to re-identify patients even after many personal identifiers are removed.”

The amicus brief filed today by AAPS and Vermonters for Health Care Freedom explains how a team of researchers at Harvard demonstrated that it was possible to re-identify the governor of a State as the patient for medical records despite the removal of several personal identifiers.

AAPS suggests that other organizations concerned about patient privacy consider filing their own amicus briefs in this landmark case before the Supreme Court. The Court should hear how Americans are fed up with the invasions of their medical record privacy.

Some States argue that their databases are important to identify unnecessary medical procedures, and mention hysterectomies as an example. But that issue was widely reported in the media, as early as 2007 by CNN, which was many years before States started building these databases. State databases of personal medical information are unnecessary to learn this information.

“The medical profession can do a far better job of reducing health care costs, without invading patient privacy, than States can do in violation of it,” AAPS tells the U.S. Supreme Court in its brief filed today. The Court should pause before “the floodgates are opened for a third of the States to become Big Brother” in invading patient privacy.

The Supreme Court is expected to schedule oral argument in this case for sometime this fall. The deadline for other groups to file an amicus brief in support of patient privacy is in mid-October.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.

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