Group annotations on this page
kwabst on 2009-04-21The Senate and House appear headed for a clash over competing visions of how to protect the privacy of patients' electronic medical records, with the House favoring strict protections advocated by consumer groups while the Senate is poised to endorse more limited safeguards urged by business interests.
President Obama has called creation of a nationwide system of electronic medical records fundamental to health-care reform, and both chambers of Congress have included about $20 billion to jump-start the initiative as part of their stimulus bills. But as with much in the stimulus package, it is not just the money but the accompanying provisions that groups are trying to influence.
The effort to speed adoption of health information technology has become the focus of an intense lobbying battle fueled by health-care and drug-industry interests that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and tens of millions more on campaign contributions over the past two years, much of it shifting to the Democrats since they took control of Congress.
At the heart of the debate is how to strike a balance between protecting patient privacy and expanding the health industry's access to vast and growing databases of information on the health status and medical care of every American. Insurers and providers say the House's proposed protections would hobble efforts to improve the quality and efficiency of health care, but privacy advocates fear that the industry would use the personal data to discriminate against patients in employment and health care as well as to market the information, often through third parties, to generate profits.