Burr among U.S. lawmakers trying to modernize health care data privacy laws

Health care added more than 24,000 jobs to the U.S. economy in May.   Zdenko Zivkovic / Flickr

With the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) out of date and the federal data framework - especially for healthcare - in need of modernization, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and his fellow members on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted to advance the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 this summer. 

The bipartisan legislation is now on the full Senate calendar. If signed into law, it would reduce health care costs and adopt new cybersecurity measures for better health care data protection, the latter of which is particularly vital given that there are no safeguards currently in place under HIPPA to protect our health data on modern technology.

HIPPA was designed to protect an individual’s health data, including x-rays, ultrasounds, patient records, or any other information that defines overall health, while using technology relative to the 1990s. There are currently no HIPPA safeguards in place to prevent health care data stored on today's smartphones, electronic tablets and smartwatches from being shared once a user has given permission for the data to be gathered. 

Sen. Burr's office refused to comment, but the Health Innovation Alliance (HIA) is working with members of Congress to develop legislation such as the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

Sen. Richard Burr  

HIA Executive Director Joel White explained how certain health care data can destroy a person’s reputation if exposed in a Patient Daily article.

“Every time we post on Facebook or tweet on Twitter or look at a YouTube video, someone is tracking our movements and they are using that data to advertise to us,” White said in the article. "That’s just a function of the modern world. When it comes to health care and whether you have cancer, HIV/AIDS or perhaps a rare pediatric condition, we expect that information to be private and held in confidence of trust. I think that there’s a huge difference between marketing data and health care data, and if health-care sensitive information is released, that has the potential to ruin reputations, harm our ability to get a job, maybe create marital problems, and certainly and if it’s hacked, can cause massive financial problems.”

White explained how technology designed for stronger health care data security cannot be released due to laws restricting personal privacy.

“The challenge is that our laws haven’t kept pace with the technology, and so we’re trying to change the laws and the framework that allow for better privacy, better security around that data, so that consumers can enjoy both the benefits of having their data used to make health care work better, and at the same time enjoy greater privacy and greater security,” White said.

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