Sen. Rand Paul continues fight against patient identifier, introduces bill to overturn authority under HIPAA

Doctor computer
Healthcare and health IT leaders say the creation of a unique patient identifier would improve interoperability and reduce medical errors. (Getty/andrei_r)

Efforts to establish a national patient identifier hit another major snag as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, fights to prevent federal funding for a unique patient identifier.

Paul, who is a physician, said in a statement that the establishment of a national patient ID would jeopardize patient privacy by "centralizing some of Americans’ most personal information." The senator introduced legislation on Wednesday, called the National Patient Identifier Repeal Act of 2019, that would repeal the original authority to create the ID under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.

Former Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, Sen. Paul's father, introduced language to the Labor-HHS appropriations bill in 1998 that put the original ban in place. HIPAA initially required the creation of a health identifier, but Congress overruled the legislation and restricted the use of federal funds to develop the identifier. The ban has been continually renewed in each Labor-HHS appropriations bill since.

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RELATED: House votes to lift ban on federal funding for unique patient identifier

"As a physician, I know firsthand how the doctor-patient relationship relies on trust and privacy, which will be thrown into jeopardy by a National Patient ID. Considering how unfortunately familiar our world has become with devastating security breaches and the dangers of the growing surveillance state, it is simply unacceptable for government to centralize some of Americans’ most personal information," Paul said in a statement about the bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June voted in favor of lifting the ban on using federal funding to create patient identifiers as part of the Foster-Kelly amendment to H.R. 2740, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020.

"Enacting the bill into law with this amendment or a similar provision would open the floodgates for a government-issued ID to be linked with the private medical history of every man, woman, and child in America," Paul said.

As a result of Paul's advocacy, Senate appropriators failed to include language overturning the two-decade-old ban in the draft fiscal year 2020 funding bill (PDF) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released earlier this month.

Healthcare and health IT groups have long advocated for a unique patient identifier in U.S. healthcare citing a long list of benefits including helping to solve issues with patient matching and potentially minimizing misidentification and medical errors.

RELATED: Health informatics leaders say it’s time for Congress to lift its ban on a unique patient identifier

The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) president and CEO Russ Branzell decried the proposed bill, saying Paul's arguments are "tired and lack a grasp of current reality."

"They are, to put it mildly, antiquated and from some bygone era. He tried a similar effort during a recent HELP Committee markup, but his ill-fated amendment was met with a resounding defeat by members of even his own party," Branzell said.

“The patient identification conversation is one about saving lives and unlocking the potential for technology to revolutionize healthcare while cutting costs," he said.

Branzell noted that Congress has approved a healthcare identifier for Medicare beneficiaries that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

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