Thursday, October 22, 2009

HIPAA vs Oklahoma: Perfect Storm?

Regardless of where one stands regarding abortion, this can't be a good idea:

"The law, which will take effect on Nov. 1, compels the Oklahoma Department of Health to publish data online on all abortion patients -- including the woman's race, marital status, financial circumstances, years of education, number of previous pregnancies, and her reason for seeking the abortion."

If there's any silver lining here, it's that patients' names aren't being published, so there's no way to link a particular person to a given procudure. Still, it's hard to see how publsihing the data itself helps anyone; absent context, what's the point?

According to the state Representative who authored the bill, the purpose is "stepping up education that targets demographics with high rates of unwanted pregnancies." What kind of education, one may ask? The article doesn't say, but it's likely linked to funding of some sort (perhaps Medicaid?). Granted, the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from paying for abortions, but this seems a stretch.

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is pretty stringent when it comes to protecting personal health information (PHI); omitting names from the published data would seem to adhere to the letter of these requirements. But it's not hard to imagine that in small, rural communities (of which I'm sure The Sooner State has at least its share) it would be fairly easy to link up demographics with specific people. While I'm not a proponent of abortion, this seems to me to be an unnecessary and potentially dangerous government intrusion on one's privacy.
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