If you think the Obama health law is only for the uninsured and you won’t be affected, you’re in for a surprise next time you go to the doctor. Be prepared for questions unrelated to why you are seeking medical help — questions that you don’t want to answer.
Whether you’re at the dermatologist or the cardiologist, you’ll likely be asked: “Are you sexually active? If so, do you have one partner, multiple partners or same-sex partners?”
Doctors are being turned into government agents, where they’re pressured financially to ask questions they consider inappropriate and unnecessary and violate their Hippocratic Oath to keep patients’ records confidential.
Going to the doctor can be embarrassing. But for your own good, you confide in your doctor, as you wouldn’t anyone else. What is happening here is different.
“This is nasty business,” says Dr. Adam Budzikowski, a New York cardiologist, who called the sex question “insensitive, stupid and very intrusive.” He could not think of an occasion when a cardiologist would need such information.
Doctors and hospitals who don’t comply with the federal government’s electronic health records requirements forego incentive payments now and face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid starting in 2015. The Department of Health and Human Services has already paid out over $12.7 billion in incentives to doctors and hospitals.
Dr. Richard Amerling, a nephrologist and associate professor of medicine at Albert Einstein Medical College, explains that your medical record should be “a story created by you and your doctor solely for your treatment and benefit.” But the Obama administration’s electronic record requirements are turning it “into an interrogation, and the data will not be confidential.”
Lack of confidentiality is what concerned the New York Civil Liberties Union in a 2012 report. Electronic medical records have enormous benefits, but with one click of a mouse, every piece of information in a patient’s record, including the social history, is transmitted, disclosing too much.
The social history questions also include whether you’ve ever used drugs, including IV drugs.
As the NYCLU cautioned, revealing a patient’s past drug problem, even if it was a decade ago, risks stigma.
On the other end of the political spectrum is the Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank. It argues that by requiring everyone to have health insurance and then imposing penalties on insurers, doctors and hospitals that don’t use the one click electronic system, you are violating Americans’ medical privacy.
Protests from these privacy advocates are largely ignored. On Jan. 17, HHS announced that if patients want to keep something out of their electronic record, they should pay cash. That’s impractical for most people.
In 2010, when Congress was drafting Obamacare, the National Rifle Association saw the danger and demanded a protection that became Section 2716 of the final law. It bars the federal government from compelling doctors and hospitals to ask you if you own a firearm. That’s the only question they can’t be told to ask you.
Where are the women’s rights groups that went to the barricades in the 1980s and 1990s to prevent the federal government from accessing women’s health records? Hypocritically, they are silent now.
Patients need to defend their own privacy by refusing to answer the intrusive “social history” questions. If you need to confide something to your doctor pertaining to your own treatment, ask your doctor about keeping two sets of books so that your secrets stay in the office. Doctors take the Hippocratic oath seriously and will not be offended.
Are such precautions paranoid? Hardly. We are only beginning to see the data collection ambitions of the executive branch. On Sept. 6, The New York Times reported that Edward Snowden’s revelations show that the National Security Agency has “broadly compromised the guarantees that Internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online bank and medical records, would be undecipherable to criminals or governments.”
Be cautious about sharing your medical secrets with Uncle Sam.
Betsy McCaughey is a former Lt. governor of New York and the author of “Beating Obamacare.”