02.13.09

Leahy-Backed Health Privacy Provisions Included Recovery Package

WASHINGTON (Friday, Feb. 13, 2009) – Health information privacy protections championed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have been included in the economic recovery and investment package negotiated by Congress this week.  Leahy has been a strong proponent of safeguarding Americans’ privacy in health care reform proposals, and worked with congressional leaders to secure the provisions.  The House of Representatives passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Friday afternoon, and the Senate is scheduled to vote on the package Friday night.

The economic recovery package adopts several of Leahy’s recommendations to better protect Americans’ health information privacy, including providing Americans access to their personal electronic health records, and the right to timely notice of data breaches involving their health information.  The recovery package also imposes critical restrictions on the sale of sensitive health data and on the use of Americans’ health data for marketing purposes.  The package also requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to receive input from individuals with specific expertise in health information privacy and security, as the Secretary develops a national health information technology system. 

“These and many other privacy safeguards in the bill will help tackle the difficult, but essential task of ensuring meaningful health information privacy for all Americans,” said Leahy.  “Congress is addressing the issue of health information privacy at the outset of the ambitious effort to fully digitize America’s health records during the next five years.  We all have a responsibility to ensure quality health care that is both efficient and respectful of all Americans’ privacy rights. 

Leahy introduced legislation in the last Congress to strengthen privacy protections in health information technology.

On January 27, Leahy chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine how best to implement privacy protections in electronic health information systems.  The Director of the Vermont Health Care Reform Commission, Dr. James Hester, testified about Vermont’s public-private partnership that is charged with developing Vermont’s statewide electronic health information system.  The Commission was created to oversee the implementation of a 2006 health reform law aimed at ensuring and providing affordable, quality health care to Vermonters.  The state law included an important privacy policy to secure Vermonters’ personal information.

The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Friday night.

# # # # #

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Health IT Privacy Protections
In The American Recovery And Reinvestment Act Of 2009

February 13, 2009

MR. PRESIDENT.   Today, the Congress considers critical legislation to renew America’s promise of prosperity and security for all of its citizens.  I am pleased that the greatly needed relief provided in the American Recovery And Reinvestment Actincludes an investment in health information technology that takes meaningful steps to protect the privacy of all Americans.  

I have long held the view that American innovation can – and should – play a vital role in revitalizing our economy and in improving our nation’s health care system.  That is why I have worked so hard with the lead sponsors of this bill to makes sure that privacy was addressed at the outset,  as our nation moves towards a national health information technology system. 

I commend the lead sponsors of this legislation in the House and Senate, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi for making sure that the economic recovery package includes meaningful privacy safeguards for electronic health records.  I also commend the many stakeholders, including, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc.,  Consumers Union, the American Civil Liberties Union and Microsoft, that have advocated tirelessly for meaningful health IT privacy protections in this legislation.

The privacy protections in this legislation are essential to a successful national health IT system. Without adequate safeguards to protect health privacy, many Americans would simply not seek the medical treatment that they need for fear that their sensitive health information will be disclosed without their consent.  Likewise, health care providers who perceive the privacy risks associated with health IT systems as inconsistent with their professional obligations would avoid participating in a national health IT system. 

The economic recovery package includes several of my recommendations to better protect Americans’ health information privacy.  First, the provisions give each and every American the right to access his or her own electronic health records, and the right to timely notice of data breaches involving their health information.  The recovery package also imposes critical restrictions on the sale of sensitive health data and on the use of Americans’ health data for marketing purposes.  Lastly, the legislation makes sure that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services receives input from individuals with specific expertise in health information privacy and security, as the Secretary develops a national health information technology system. 

These and many other privacy safeguards in the bill will help tackle the difficult, but essential task of ensuring meaningful health information privacy for all Americans.  But, we can – and should – do more.  There is much more to be done to ensure that Americans have greater control over their own electronic health records.  Another critical issue is the use of new technologies to better secure sensitive health records, so that data breaches involving health and other sensitive personal data do not occur in the first place. 

Yesterday, we celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of our Nation’s 16th President – Abraham Lincoln – who once remarked that “you cannot escape the responsibility for tomorrow by evading it today.”  We all have a responsibility to ensure quality health care that is both efficient and respectful of all Americans’ privacy rights.  I am pleased that the Congress acted to address the issue of health information privacy at the outset of the ambitious effort to fully digitize America’s health records during the next five years.  During the months and years ahead, Congress must build upon this early privacy success with more work on health information privacy on behalf of all Americans. 

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693