Unique Medical Identifier Degrades Privacy and Risks Harm to Patient Care

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The U.S. House of Representatives just voted to repeal the prohibition on the use of federal funds to create a “unique patient identifier,” which former Representative Ron Paul, M.D., sponsored in 1998. Unless the prohibition is reinstated, the federal government will have the authority to assign every American a medical ID. “This ID will be used to store and track every American’s medical history,” Dr. Paul warns.

In 2001, AAPS and Dr. Paul sued HHS, challenging the constitutionality of the identifier and other harmful provisions of HIPAA intrusion into patient privacy. The lawsuit led to certain protections for physicians and their patients who refrain from filing insurance claims electronically.

The unique identifier system would facilitate the collection of health information without a warrant by governmental surveillance. Federal bureaucrats and government-favored special interests could access health information simply by entering an individual’s unique patient ID into a database. This database is likely to be linked to other government records.

Dr. Paul asks what a future J. Edgar Hoover or Lois Lerner might do with access to the medical information of those involved in political movements the government in power wished to silence. The potential abuses extend far beyond the much-criticized misconduct by the National Security Agency (NSA) in eavesdropping.

The Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom joins AAPS and Dr. Paul in opposing the identifier. “Make no mistake. The [patient identifier] would be the end of privacy and the foundation of a national health data system and a socialized health care system,” warns Twila Brase, president of CCHF. If a person ever sought help for a psychiatric problem, say distress over the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or other life crisis, it might be used as a “red flag” to deny him his right to own a gun. It might be also used against him in a child-custody dispute, an employment decision, or admission to an educational constitution.

If patients fear that their medical information might be used against them, they are likely to withhold data their physicians need to provide proper treatment, such as their sexual, drug, or alcohol history. The loss of confidentiality destroys the patient-physician relationship, which is the foundation of good medical care, Dr. Paul points out.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) urges Congress to defend patients’ freedom and privacy by restoring the prohibition on funding this dangerous assault on privacy.

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943. Its motto is “omnia pro aegroto,” or “all for the patient.”