AHA Addresses Health Data Security Concern in VT SCOTUS Case

Amicus briefs in the Gobeille vs. Liberty Mutual Insur. Co. Supreme Court case continue as the American Hospital Association (AHA) recently contributed its thoughts on the matter. The organization submitted its brief on September 8, and advocated that the data collection benefits outweigh the patient privacy concerns associated with the case.

The case, which directly involves the state of Vermont and Liberty Mutual Insurance, sets out to determine whether the state can collect all-payer claims data for the sake of improving patient care and the healthcare delivery system. Private health insurers and self-funded employer plans, such as those offered at Liberty Mutual, believe this data collection to be an infringement on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Some assert that all-payer claims data collection poses a threat to health data security.

patient privacy adequate for all-payer databases examined in supreme court case

AHA states otherwise in its recent amicus brief, according to an AHA press release. All-payer claims databases allow states and other healthcare providers to detect trends in healthcare, and adjust policies in order to yield best care results. Furthermore, AHA explains that the information in the databases will be privacy-protected under HIPAA regulations.

“To safeguard patient privacy, the data is collected, handled, and released in a way that removes individual patient identifiers,” AHA explains. “Federal laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require as much.”

AHA explains that all-payer claims databases help improve healthcare delivery for all beneficiaries, and states that the federal government should not impede upon a state’s ability to utilize this resource.

“But a comprehensive, longitudinal, multi-payer dataset—in other words, an all-payer database—can provide unprecedented research and policy opportunities for improving the health care delivery system,” AHA writes. “Federal law should not be interpreted to preclude the states’ use of this tool to best improve the health of their communities.”

The brief points out that self-funded employer plans are serving an increasing number of beneficiaries. Since the data collected from these plans are excluded in state claims databases, AHA asserts that states are missing a significant portion of the population from their data, inhibiting the state’s ability to analyze comprehensive data.

“Self-insured plans cover a large, growing and distinctive portion of the population,” AHA maintains. “It is essential that they be included in all-payer databases if those databases are to realize their potential, and if America’s hospitals are to realize their goal of improving community health and controlling costs while providing the high-quality care for which they are known.”

However, other physician organizations state that security risks associated with all-payer databases outweigh any benefits the databases may have. As reported by HealthITSecurity.com, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) maintains that the sheer volume of patient information would make it far too difficult to protect patient data.

“Privacy of patient medical records cannot be protected in these massive government databases,” writes Andrew Schlafly, AAPS General Counsel. “Hacking is widespread, and studies have shown that it is easy to re-identify patients even after many personal identifiers are removed.”

AAPS cited other concerns, such as the credentials of health policymakers. The organization maintained that physicians, not government officials, are best equipped to make policy decisions such as these.

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