Idea of national patient IDs revives privacy fight

Health Care

Its ultimate fate is still tied to uncertainties surrounding the appropriations process and an overdue report on the benefits and risks from HHS’ health information tech office.

Patients rest in a hallway in the emergency room area at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on Jan. 27, 2021, in Apple Valley, Calif. | Mario Tama/Getty Images

By BEN LEONARD

12/25/2021 07:00 AM EST

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Advocates of unique IDs to match patients to their health records may be close to lifting a decadeslong congressional ban on using federal funds to develop the system.

The effort, long mired in broader debates over patient privacy, gained steam this fall when the Senate for the first time left the ban out of a fiscal 2022 spending package. But its ultimate fate is still tied to uncertainties surrounding the appropriations process and an overdue report on the benefits and risks from the Department of Health and Human Services’ health information technology office that could influence the system’s design.

“Whenever you propose anything that sort of resembles national ID, then what happens is that the ACLU will jump down your throat from the left and then the Red Dawn people jump down your throat from … the Libertarian right,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who has led efforts to drop the ban with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.). The two lawmakers last month urged HHS’ health IT agency to publish its report, which was due a year ago.

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