How Private Is Your Private Health Information?

Insurance companies have a lot of information on you, regulators call it Personal Health Information, or PHI. This information is now frequently digitized, which helps greatly in making records easy to access. It also means data is, from time to time, lost. Ken Pope, on his email mailing list, regularly posts on the topic of lost private data.

The sensitivity of private data is one reason many therapists opt out of taking insurance. A diagnosis can follow one around for years, potentially being labeled as a pre-existing condition leading to non-coverage. Private information can become less than private.

Here’s one of his posts, from October 20, 2010:

Today’s *Philadelphia Inquirer* includes an article: “Health insurers
say data on 280,000 Pennsylvania clients may be compromised” by Jane M.
Von Bergen.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Keystone Mercy Health Plan and AmeriHealth Mercy Health Plan said
Tuesday that a portable computer drive containing the names, addresses,
and health information of 280,000 Medicaid members in Pennsylvania has
been lost.

The affiliated companies together insure 400,000 people on medical
assistance in Pennsylvania.

Also stored on the drive were the last four digits of 801 members’
Social Security numbers, plus complete Social Security numbers for seven
others.

“We deeply regret this unfortunate incident,” said the affiliates’
president, Jay Feldstein, in a statement released by the insurers.

“We take our responsibilities for safeguarding personal health
information very seriously.”

The insurers did not respond to numerous requests for information,
including questions about when and where the incident took place,
whether any complaints have been received, and which regulatory agencies
have been notified.

[end excerpts]

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