Bipartisan push for a national patient digital ID soldiers on

healthcare patient identity governance biometric authentication

A U.S. Representative is trying again to break a circular illogic that prevents federal money from funding a national patient ID system based on biometric data.

Democratic Rep. Bill Foster from Illinois, this year has co-sponsored an amendment to a House spending resolution (HR 2740) that would end an explicit funding ban that was imposed by Congress on the Department of Health and Human Services 21 years ago.

Foster and co-sponsor Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican from Pennsylvania, unsuccessfully tried to accomplish the same thing last year.

For the ban to be overturned, the Senate would have to accept a similar amendment to their version of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill, and the White House would have to sign it into law without deleting that line item.

Proponents, including the CIO-dominated College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, say national patient IDs would improve patient-record matching and minimize duplicate records. Also pushing the idea is the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. The amendment, the organization said, would, in an indirect way, prevent Congress from regulating an identifier system.

The 1999 ban was designed to protect patients’ privacy and data security. Today, it prevents legislation designed to protect patient’s privacy and data security.

The topic came up during an interview Foster gave Information Security Media Group Corp. He maintains that most people are more worried about being impersonated online than having their data picked off of a database. Being able to digitally prove one’s identity is the best way to prevent identity fraud, he said.

A national ID for patients potentially could address a multitude of concerns plaguing health care now and could go a long way in creating immunity certificates for people needing to prove they are not sick with COVID-19.

Even in less extraordinary times, a national patient ID system could make a noticeable difference in provisioning health care.

A report written for the federal National Coordinator for Health Information Technology office back in 2014, states that every misidentification of a patient costs at least $1,200.

Not unexpectedly, the cost of mismatches in hospitals are the most expensive, resulting in treatment errors and extended stays. Some snags have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and required months of work to resolve, according to the report.

The idea of such an ID was part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act when it was signed into law in 1996 — three years before the ban. HIPAA named 18 national patient identifiers at that time including name, medical record numbers, IP addresses and biometric data.

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