FreedomWorks’ Bill of the Month for October 2020: National Patient Identifier Repeal Act, S. 2538

FreedomWorks is proud to announce that our bill of the month for October 2020 is the National Patient Identifier Repeal Act, S. 2538, introduced by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The National Patient Identifier Repeal Act seeks to repeal a dangerous section of the law that could require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a national patient ID system. Such a system would present an unprecedented threat to patient security and privacy across the country.

Included as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), 42 USC 1320d-2 requires the Secretary of HHS to “adopt standards providing for a standard unique health identifier for each individual, employer, health plan, and health care provider for use in the health care system.” It further grants HHS the authority to “specify the purposes for which a unique health identifier may be used.” In other words, HHS would establish a centralized nationwide database housing tokenized healthcare information for every American for whatever purpose they see fit.

Since 1999, Congress has always used the appropriations process to deny HHS any funding to implement such a system, effectively nullifying the mandate in HIPAA. Unfortunately, the current House, under the direction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has repeatedly voted to remove the language in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill that bans HHS from developing a national patient identifier.

The National Patient Identifier Repeal Act is a simple, permanent fix for this issue that Congress has accepted on a bipartisan basis for over 20 years. With one line, Dr. Paul’s bill would repeal 42 USC 1320d-2, eliminating the possibility of HHS implementing a national patient identifier absent future specific congressional approval.

“As a physician, I know firsthand how the doctor-patient relationship relies on trust and privacy,” said Dr. Paul. “Considering how unfortunately familiar our world has become with devastating security breaches and the dangers of the growing surveillance state, it is simply unacceptable for government to centralize some of Americans’ most personal information.”

The mind boggles when considering all of the potential dangers and abuses of a national patient identifier system. There is certainly something dystopian about the federal government, rather than your doctor, being the arbiter of your medical information. More concretely, a unified database of America’s medical information would certainly be a prime target for all types of hackers, from opportunistic, lone-wolf attacks to state sponsored cyberterrorists. Clearly, patient privacy comes secondary when implementing a national patient identifier.

In the rush to provide policy solutions to our nation’s broken healthcare system, many seem to have forgotten the importance of patient privacy, especially on the left. Efforts to centralize healthcare practically demand individuals give up both their privacy and security. Given HHS’ less than reputable record on patient privacy, legislators should be wary of granting federal agencies carte blanche to collect and centralize America’s medical records. The sensitivity of the information involved in such a database alone should require Congress’ due diligence to establish strong statutory privacy protections. Congress can not afford to pass the buck on such an important issue.

Historically, FreedomWorks, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, has been vocal on this issue, having sent a joint letter to Congress urging them to maintain this important medical privacy provision in the FY 2020 Labor-HHS appropriation bill. As Congress readies itself for another appropriations battle when the current Continuing Resolution expires in December, there is a very real possibility that a majority Democrat Senate would quietly remove these important patient protections. The members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on both sides of the aisle, should hold the line on the unique health identifier funding prohibition.

We greatly appreciate the hard work of Dr. Paul as the lone champion of this issue, and we sincerely hope that other members of both chambers will open their eyes to the importance of patient privacy and support the National Patient Identifier Repeal Act, S. 2538. Absent the passage of this legislation, we also encourage members to maintain the unique health identifier funding prohibition rider in future appropriations bills. Hopefully, the light that Dr. Paul has shined on this issue will ensure that future attacks to patient privacy do not go unaddressed.