Privacy Alert: Consumer Watchdog Urges Public to ‘Opt Out’ of Cal INDEX Electronic Health Information Exchange

Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Privacy Alert: Consumer Watchdog Urges Public to ‘Opt Out’ of Cal INDEX Electronic Health Information Exchange

    Ten Questions Blue Cross & Blue Shield Must Answer Before Patients Agree To Share Medical Records, Says Consumer Watchdog

    SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today urged consumers to opt out of the new electronic health information exchange, Cal INDEX, that is being set up by Blue Cross and Blue Shield until key questions about patient privacy are answered.

    The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group added that the best way to protect privacy when sharing patient information is an opt-in approach.

    The California Integrated Data Exchange — Cal INDEX – is an electronic health information exchange that is collecting patient records from healthcare providers and health insurers to allow them to share patients’ health information.

    Consumers’ medical information is already being collected by Cal INDEX from Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but the organization has not yet made its privacy policy public, or clearly disclosed to the public how their medical information will be used.  Recently the two insurers have been notifying policyholders by mail and email that they have a right to opt out of having Cal INDEX share their records.

    “If the exchange will do so much to benefit our health care, Cal INDEX should make that case and ask us to opt in,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “Instead, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are telling enrollees they can opt out during the busy holiday season when we are all distracted.  Worse, Cal INDEX fails to clearly explain its privacy protections and how it will operate. Consumers can’t make an informed decision based on what they’ve said so far.”

    Consumer Watchdog said that while a comprehensive medical record exchange may ultimately help patients, the exchange must be transparent about its purposes before people agree to share their medical records.  Below are ten questions that must be answered before consumers can reasonably be expected to make a decision about what to do:

    — What is Cal INDEX’s privacy policy and when will that policy be available to patients whose information is already being collected by Cal INDEX?

    — Will I be able to see everything Cal INDEX collects on me?

    — What providers submit patient information to the Cal INDEX network, and who has access to that information?

    — If I opt out of Cal INDEX, but my medical provider is a participant, is my data still collected by Cal INDEX even if other providers can’t access it?

    — Can I correct my Cal INDEX record if it is wrong?

    — If I opt in and later change my mind, can I have my data removed from Cal INDEX?

    — Can I choose which medical providers may share my information, and which may not, to protect medical information I do not want shared?

    — Will my medical information be available to anyone other than my medical providers and insurance companies?

    — What will health insurers do with my records? If I am covered by one insurer, will another insurer have access to my information?

    — Will health insurance companies use the medical records on Cal INDEX for any purpose other than to provide my medical information to my medical providers?

    “No consumer yet has enough information to decide whether to opt into Cal INDEX,” said Simpson. “The best privacy protection for now is to opt out.  You can always opt in when they make it clear what the benefits and protections will be.”

    Cal INDEX is being set up with $80 million in seed money from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California. The insurers’ money will fund it for three years, with subscribers footing the bill after that.

    Blue Shield and Blue Cross announced creation of the health information exchange to create a comprehensive collection of electronic patient records including clinical data from healthcare providers and health insurers. Cal INDEX says it will allow physicians, nurses and hospitals throughout the state to share patients’ health information and will provide them with the tools to help them give their patients the safest, highest-quality care possible. Cal INDEX says the exchange will help avoid possible duplicate procedures, cut medical costs, and provide data for medical research.

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