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EDITORIAL: Invasion of medical privacy

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

Privacy rights are under threat in the House's government health care plan. While plowing through the more than 1,000-page Democratic House bill, Declan McCullagh of CBS News uncovered provisions that would allow startling privacy intrusions. The innermost secrets of people's personal lives would be made available to thousands of government bureaucrats.

Section 431(a) requires the Internal Revenue Service to give detailed taxpayer information to the new health choices commissioner and state health programs. The helpful government just wants to be able to tell citizens when they might be eligible for benefits they somehow might have overlooked. Besides letting all those government bureaucrats know about an individual's income, number of dependents and filing status, the plan has an unlimited catchall that would require disclosure of "other information as is prescribed by" the health commissioner. The IRS would be commanded to provide whatever information about individual taxpayers the health choices commissioner deemed necessary.

The Social Security Administration also could obtain whatever individual income-tax information it deemed relevant to determine people's eligibility for a "low-income prescription drug subsidy" even if the individual had not applied for it.

Both the left and the right are raising concerns about these invasions of privacy. The Electronic Privacy Information Center announced it opposes these provisions because the legislation "violates the intent of the Privacy Act which generally requires agencies to obtain information directly from individuals and not from other agencies." The Institute for Policy Innovation likewise worries: "How many thousands of federal employees will have access to your records? The privacy of your health records will be only as good as the most nosy, most dishonest and most malcontented federal employee."

Many government employees wouldn't abuse access to this information, but if you want to know what life can be like with this personal information floating around, ask Joe Wurzelbacher, known popularly as Joe the Plumber. After asking candidate Barack Obama a question and accidentally becoming a sideshow of last autumn's presidential campaign, Joe the Plumber was the victim of Obama supporters within the Ohio state government who searched documents for embarrassing details about him. That personal information was leaked to the press.

Even a well-meaning government can easily turn into an oppressive government. Bureaucrats have no right to minute details about our personal lives, but government health care would hand it all over.