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Scary news: States are selling your private medical info

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Did you know that your state can sell parts of your medical records that are considered public information? States are routinely selling private medical information to third parties without respect to anonymity.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Although hospitals routinely promise to keep each patient's health backgrounds confidential, public information about their condition can be bought and sold like any other commodity and is often exchanged between states and entities with an interest in the information.

Bloomberg.com recently ran a story in which Ray Boylston became hospitalized after suffering a diabetic shock during a motorcycle ride. Following his week in the hospital, Washington state gathered information on his hospital stay and later sold it as part of a database made available in 2011.

Anyone who wished to identify Boylston could do so by cross-referencing the state records with public information, such as news reports.

The end result is that Boylston's privacy is in jeopardy. And so it yours.

Information is gold and to get it, companies are paying more and more each year. Websites such as Facebook make virtually all of their revenue from compiling intimate profiles on individuals and selling that data to third parties.

It's not just Facebook, of course, states and hospitals are in on it too.

While the state reaps profits, it costs you your privacy.

When aggregated into databases and cross-referenced with other publicly available data, individuals can be identified. Now, any interested party can check more than your work history or criminal background. Now they can check your health too. Unfortunately, this misuse of private data can cost people loans, force them to pat higher premiums for insurance, and suffer embarrassment.

State public health agencies are not regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

States aggregate most of the data using discharge details. According to Bloomberg News, Some states deliberate shear these details from their records, but many others do not.

"The medical-data industry is estimated to surpass $10 billion by 2020, according to McKinsey & Co.," Bloomberg reports.

And with the move to electronic records mandated by Obamacare, the aggregation of data will be even easier.

Advocates fear that people with an interest will use the data for leverage. Whether it's employers looking to hire healthy employees, or insurance firms looking to set higher rates, the information can potentially be used to discriminate against people or to make them pay more than those around them.

This isn't particularly democratic, and offends our sense of fair play, rooted in contemporary notions of democracy.

Moreover, it violates one of the final sacred vaults of privacy, namely, medical information.

The time is approaching where we may no longer be able to expect privacy in anything we do.

While most of the data can be used to anonymously identify trends and might help improve healthcare services, it can also be used by unscrupulous individuals to create problems for patients. States or the federal government will need to revisit their data sharing policies to ensure they do not create victims at the same time they heal them.

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