Access Management , Governance & Risk Management , Security Operations

Congressman Makes Case for National Patient ID

Bill Foster Explains His Push to Lift HHS Ban on Patient ID Funding
Congressman Makes Case for National Patient ID
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., who has twice introduced a measure to pave the way for a national patient identifier, explains in an in-depth interview why he believes such an ID is essential.

For example, he says such an ID would help improve the matching of the right patient to all the right health records and prevent medical identity theft and fraud.

For the second time in two years, Foster introduced legislation to lift a 21-year ban on the Department of Health and Human Services funding efforts to develop and adopt a unique national patient identifier. The House recently voted to approve the bipartisan amendment, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn. (see: House Again Votes to Lift National Patient ID Ban).

The House also voted to support a similar budget amendment last year. But the Senate approved a budget bill last year that left the HHS funding ban intact, citing privacy concerns.

Originally, HIPAA, which was enacted in 1996, required the creation of patient identifiers and other uniform standards for electronic data transmission to improve the reliability of health information.

But Congress in 1999 banned HHS from spending money to develop a unique patient identifier system, mainly because of privacy concerns. And since then, the Congressional restriction has been included in the wording of HHS' final annual appropriation bills year after year.

Time for Change?

Foster argues, however, that the time is right for dropping the ban and moving forward with a patient ID.

"For most people, someone impersonating them online or potentially in a doctor's office is a much more real threat to their privacy than any worries about ... big databases," he says. "The way to prevent identity fraud is to have a digital means of proving that you are who you say you are."

In the interview with Information Security Media Group (see audio link below photo), Foster also discusses:

  • The potential for tying a unique national patient ID with Real IDs being rolled out by the Department of Homeland Security;
  • The privacy concerns of opponents to a national patient ID;
  • How having a national patient ID could have assisted during the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in use of telehealth.

Foster has represented the 11th Congressional District of Illinois since 2013. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee and is the chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee. He was recently appointed to the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Before serving in Congress, Foster spent over two decades as a high-energy particle physicist.

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