I tend not to get too exercised about privacy issues regarding personal health records, in part because the horse is already out of the barn. This point was made abundantly clear in a recent article (see: “Health 2.0″ vs. Health Insurers: The Looming Clash). Below is an excerpt from it with boldface emphasis mine:
Earlier this week, the Washington Post revealed that health insurers can now obtain a sort of health “credit report” on individuals thanks to the vast store of digitized drug-prescription data now held by “pharmacy benefit managers” [PBMs] like ExpressScripts (see: Prescription Data Used To Assess Consumers). Drug-use information, of course, is highly useful to insurers as a reliable proxy for an individual’s health; as the story notes, if your data records show you’ve been on the highest dose of a cholesterol-lowering statin for 18 months, that signals you have an almost intractable cholesterol problem and face an elevated risk of heart attack or stroke. (This WaPo story also happens to expose the fundamental silliness of “privacy concerns” raised by critics of e-prescription services.... In most cases, drug data is digitized and stored the moment a patient hands over her doctor’s prescription form; it matters not at all whether the doctor initially sends the prescription in digital form, except that e-prescribing seems highly likely to cut down on prescription errors. Barn door: open; horse: gone.)
Now this whole issue gets a little more interesting. Here's a quote from the WaPo article cited above:
Ingenix, a Minnesota-based health information services company that had $1.3 billion in sales last year -- and Wisconsin-based rival Milliman -- say the drug profiles are an accurate, less expensive alternative to seeking physician records, which can take months and hundreds of dollars to obtain. They note that consumers authorize the data release and that the services can save insurance companies millions of dollars and benefit consumers anxious for a decision.
In case you did not get the point, the reason that consumers should be supportive of the mission of companies like Ingenix is that broad access to patients' prescription data "can save insurance companies millions of dollars." And don't you remember signing that data release form. It permits the release of the detailed account of your prescription drugs and dosages so that health insurance companies can determine what diseases you are being treated for and possibly factor that into the consideration of whether you are an acceptable insurance risk?
Let's take a look at one of the giant health insurance companies -- UnitedHealth. I have posed a number of notes about this company with a market cap of $38B before. Here's a few more details about it:
UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (UnitedHealth Group) is a diversified health and well-being company, serving approximately 70 million Americans. The Company provides individuals with access to healthcare services and resources through more than 560,000 physicians and other healthcare providers and 4,800 hospitals across the United States. UnitedHealth Group conducts its operations through four operating divisions: Health Care Services, OptumHealth, Ingenix and Prescription Solutions.
Wait a minute! UnitedHealth owns Ingenix. I have previously posted a note about this relationship (see: UnitedHealth Draws Criticism for Its Out-of-Network Reimbursement Policies) And it also owns another PBM, Prescription Solutions. When you have a special interest in patients' drug prescription information, one PBM is never enough.