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Covered California Calls Collection of Patient Data a Good Thing

Note next to a stethoscope that reads

In a case of what might be best described as – I know what you did last summer –

California’s health exchange wants your insurance data. In other words, with 1.4 million people enrolled, Covered California, the state’s health insurance version of Obamacare, is embarking on an ambitious effort to collect insurance company data on every patient pertaining to prescriptions, doctor visits and hospital stays – claiming the massive data-mining project is essential to measure quality of care patients receive.

Be that as it may, in the wake of the Anthem breach, the effort has raised questions about patient privacy, not to mention security worries of identity theft on a grand scale.

Covered California insists the data gathering is also to hold health insurers and medical providers accountable under the Affordable Care Act. In April, the state signed a five-year, $9.3-million contract with Truven Health Analytics Inc. of Michigan to run the database.

While there may be the potential for much public good, Michelle De Mooy, deputy director for consumer privacy at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, believes there is a greater public good in protecting privacy and security.

The concerns about patient privacy and whether the state is doing enough to inform consumers about how their data will be used are not unfounded. And, neither are worries about security amid massive breaches at Anthem Inc. and other health insurers affecting millions of Americans. Hacking is now a frequent occurrence and it leaves all consumers vulnerable.

Executive director of Covered California, Peter Lee, said protecting sensitive information was a top priority and that consumers stand to benefit from the collection of medical data. Apparently, you also have no say in the matter. Lee acknowledged that the state had no plans to let consumers opt out and keep their records out of the database.

According to Lee, to better understand the quality of care being provided, everybody needs to be in. And, that without the data, they are only delivering on half the promise of the Affordable Care Act. He went on to cite an example: the exchange will look to track how many diabetics are having their chronic condition managed correctly and how many screening tests for cancer led to early diagnosis and treatment.

Many health-policy experts have applauded California’s efforts to stand tough as a major healthcare purchaser by demanding data that insurers are often reluctant to share. The belief is that public disclosure of health plan performance could put pressure on insurers to better serve patients, giving the state another bargaining chip in rate negotiations.

However, others believe asking the permission of consumers is absolutely integral to the process since the data is not the state’s to begin with. But, Covered California executive director Lee is quick to point out that the exchange is mindful of those concerns and plans to seek input from consumer groups and medical experts on how best to operate the program. That said, the recent national debate over bulk collection of phone records has highlighted the public’s wariness about the government amassing vast amounts of personal information. And, many don’t like it.

In response to Covered California’s past stumbles over its handling of consumer information, state lawmakers have pushed for legislation that would bar the dissemination of names, emails and phone numbers with those third parties unless the person requested help. State Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) is spearheading the effort, saying the exchange must tread carefully or risk losing the public’s confidence.

Still, it’s now mandatory to be covered or pay the penalty for not having health insurance. You can decide to ignore it or you can make sure you’re protected should you suffer from a sudden catastrophic illness or accident. Affordable health insurance is available if you know where to look. Why not get a free health insurance quote today?

Do you mind sharing your data if it means you receive better health care or do you believe it’s an invasion of your privacy? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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