Coalition wants privacy included with healthcare IT funding in stimulus package

By Diana Manos
09:26 AM

The Coalition for Patient Privacy urged Congress Wednesday to include privacy safeguards with any funding earmarked for healthcare IT in an economic stimulus package expected to hit President-elect Barack Obama's desk shortly after inauguration.

The bipartisan coalition, representing more than 30 organizations, individual experts and the Microsoft Corporation, said trust is essential to public adoption of healthcare IT.
In a letter to Congressional leaders, the coalition called for accountability for access to health records, control of personal information and transparency to protect healthcare consumers from abuse.

Michelle De Mooy, a national priorities associate from Consumer Action, said, "Privacy is not just a basic right for all Americans; it has become a basic necessity."

In his press conference last week, Obama called for electronic health records for every American by 2014. In the past few years, Congress has been unable to pass a healthcare IT bill, with much of that difficulty hinging on an inability to reconcile differences of opinion on healthcare IT privacy.

Ashley Katz, executive director of Patient Privacy Rights, said the coalition is asking for "very basic, common sense protections."

"We all want to innovate and improve healthcare. But without privacy, our system will crash as any system with a persistent and chronic virus will," she said. "Americans will avoid participation or, worse, avoid care altogether and undoubtedly misrepresent the truth about their medical history."   
Obama's transition team, Congress and industry advisors have been working since December to map out an $800 billion economic stimulus package that will include some funding for healthcare and healthcare IT, according to a Capitol Hill source.

During his campaign, Obama promised $10 billion a year for five years toward healthcare IT, and those close to lawmakers say Congress is considering a commitment of $20 billion over the next two years in the stimulus package.

David Merritt, project director for the Center for Health Transformation, said the stimulus package is changing moment to moment, and it's unclear whether the supposed $20 billion is a down payment on the $50 billion Obama promised during his campaign or to be added on top of it.