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Database? What database?

| Monday, June 6, 2005

Newt Gingrich thinks health care is more efficient with more government.

So do Hillary Rodham Clinton, Patrick Kennedy and Tim Murphy. Is their bias based on government's record of hyper-efficiency running Medicare, Medicaid and Veterans Affairs hospitals?

Maybe they simply are wiser than others.

Mr. Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, had been speaker of the House of Representatives. Mrs. Clinton is a Democrat representing New York in the Senate. Rep. Kennedy is a Rhode Island Democrat and Rep. Murphy, a Republican of Upper St. Clair.

They have hooked up to put everyone's medical records in cyberspace -- accessible by patients, doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurance companies and hackers hoping to learn everything about you -- including your Social Security number.

Dr. Murphy (he's a child psychologist) and Mr. Kennedy are co-sponsors of the "21st Century Health Information Act." It mandates all medical records be made Internet-friendly -- "Electronic medical records allow patients' medical history, tests (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans), and treatments (such as films of surgery) to be stored and accessed in a secure, confidential manner." Initial cost of the carrots for compliance: $50 million.

Maybe there are Web sites as secure as your doctor's office where all those multicolor medical file folders are stored and accessed only by those you know and trust.

Murphy sounds reassuring.

"The main point is to move health care out of the paper and pencil age," he said. He insisted the act does not create a national database. It just converts systems for easier access, Murphy said. "There is no database."

Not yet.

But the bill is a first step to a national database, according to David Merritt, project director of Gingrich's Center for Health Transformation. Its Web site clearly indicates the goal is that database.

Click "Challenging Convention in Palm Springs" just above "Newt Gingrich presents a 'sweeping vision' of health care transformation in a speech to the California Association of Physician Groups."

The title in big bold letters: "Gingrich seeks health care database." The story is that "Gingrich's sweeping vision for reform calls for a national database of electronic health records accessible by every patient or physician in America."

The potential for abuse is extraordinary, according to Michael Ostrolenk, director of government affairs for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. It was founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine. "There are so many holes in the privacy and protection of health care information."

Unauthorized accessing of supposedly secure national databases seems to occur daily.

Ostrolenk also questioned the lack of any deterrent in the act. "Funny, there are no penalties for unauthorized disclosure."

Murphy said he thought existing regulations were sufficient, but he was not sure. "I will double check that," he said, adding he would consider amending the act to include penalties for violations.

That sounds efficient.

If you can name one -- one -- field that government intervention improved, maybe you would support this high-tech central planning that will eventually lead to a national database.

But considering how this act reeks of mission creep toward a national database, why would you trust the government to oversee your medical records•

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