The federal government's plans to build a national database of health care claims data covering tens of millions of individuals are on hold, at least temporarily, after privacy advocates protested the idea as well as the very short public comment period.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management on Oct. 5 published a notice in the Federal Register stating "this action will be effective without further notice on Nov. 15, 2010, unless comments are received that would result in a contrary determination" (see story). And contrary comment they got almost immediately (see story).

Now, as first reported by HealthcareInfoSecurity.com, the office will extend the comment period to Dec. 15, in a notice published Nov. 15 in the Federal Register. Criticized for giving virtually no details on the need for the database and how it will operate, OPM in the notice now pledges to do so, but gives no indication that the database will not go forward:

"Based on the comments we have received since we published the initial notice, OPM is considering revisions to the systems notice to, among other things, provide greater specificity regarding the authorities for maintaining the system, clarify its intent to significantly limit the circumstances under which personally identifiable records may be released, and provide a more detailed explanation of how the records in this system will be protected and secured. If OPM publishes a revised systems notice, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the revised notice before OPM begins operating the system. In the meantime,

OPM is extending the opportunity for interested persons, organizations, and agencies to review and provide comments pursuant to the October 5, 2010 system notice."

The Health Claims Data Warehouse will contain information on individuals covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program and two programs created under the health reform law: The National Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program and the Multi-State Option Plan. Data in the warehouse--which can be extensively shared--will include name, Social Security number, date of birth, gender, phone number, address, spouse and dependent names and addresses, and information on employment, providers, coverage, procedures and diagnosis, along with related provider charges and reimbursement.

Individuals will have the right to find out if the warehouse contains information about them and to request amendment of records.

--Joseph Goedert

 

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