Are you sexually active? If so, with one partner, multiple partners or same-sex partners?”
Be ready to answer those questions and more the next time you go to the doctor, whether it’s the dermatologist or the cardiologist and no matter if the questions are unrelated to why you’re seeking medical help. And you can thank the Obama health law.
“This is nasty business,” says New York cardiologist Dr. Adam Budzikowski. He called the sex questions “insensitive, stupid and very intrusive.” He couldn’t think of an occasion when a cardiologist would need such information — but he knows he’ll be pushed to ask for it.
The president’s “reforms” aim to turn doctors into government agents, pressuring them financially to ask questions they consider inappropriate and unnecessary, and to violate their Hippocratic Oath to keep patients’ records confidential.
Embarrassing though it may be, you confide things to a doctor you wouldn’t tell anyone else. But this is entirely different.
Doctors and hospitals who don’t comply with the federal government’s electronic-health-records requirements forgo incentive payments now; starting in 2015, they’ll face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid. The Department of Health and Human Services has already paid out over $12.7 billion for these incentives.
Dr. Richard Amerling, a nephrologist and associate professor at Albert Einstein Medical College, explains that your medical record should be “a story created by you and your doctor solely for your treatment and benefit.” But the new requirements are turning it “into an interrogation, and the data will not be confidential.”
Lack of confidentiality is what concerned the New York Civil Liberties Union in a 2012 report. Electronic medical records have enormous benefits, but with one click of a mouse, every piece of information in a patient’s record, including the social history, is transmitted, disclosing too much.
The social-history questions also include whether you’ve ever used drugs, including IV drugs. As the NYCLU cautioned, revealing a patient’s past drug problem, even if it was a decade ago, risks stigma.
On the other end of the political spectrum is the Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank. It argues that by requiring everyone to have health insurance and then imposing penalties on insurers, doctors and hospitals who don’t use the one-click electronic system, the law is violating Americans’ medical privacy.
The administration is ignoring these protests from privacy advocates. On Jan. 17, HHS announced patients who want to keep something out of their electronic record should pay cash. That’s impractical for most people.
There’s one question they can’t ask: Thanks to the NRA, Section 2716 of the ObamaCare law bars the federal government from compelling doctors and hospitals to ask you if you own a firearm.
But that’s the only question they can’t be told to ask you.
Where are the women’s rights groups that went to the barricades in the 1980s and 1990s to prevent the federal government from accessing a woman’s health records? Hypocritically, they are silent now.
Patients need to defend their own privacy by refusing to answer the intrusive social-history questions. If you need to confide something pertaining to your treatment, ask your doctor about keeping two sets of books so that your secret stays in the office. Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath seriously and won’t be offended.
Are such precautions paranoid? Hardly. WikiLeaker Bradley Manning showed how incompetent the government is at keeping its own secrets; incidents where various agencies accidentally disclose personal data like Social Security numbers are legion. And that’s not to mention the ways in which commercial databases are prone to hacking and/or exploitation.
Be careful about sharing your medical secrets with Uncle Sam.