MPs butt heads over opt-out model for e-health records

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MPs butt heads over opt-out model for e-health records

Divide opens between cross-party committees.

Australia's federal parliamentarians are struggling to reach agreement over whether the country should introduce e-health records by default for every Australian.

The senate standing committee on community affairs yesterday tabled its report on the draft My Health Record bill, throwing its support behind the proposal and recommending the bill be passed.

Its only advice was that the government consider guidance from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner on how best to communicate the change to the public.

The MPs said they recognised the opt-out model raised privacy risks, but were satisfied that the proposed trial of the approach would iron out any privacy issues that may arise.

The committee, chaired by Liberal Party senator Zed Seselja, is made up of three Coalition members, two Labor Party senators, and two representatives from the Greens.

But their support for the proposal comes in contrast to another parliamentary committee, which last month wrote to Health Minister Sussan Ley to express concerns about the "significant" effect the change could have on an individual's privacy.

The joint committee on human rights - chaired by Liberal MP Phillip Ruddock - questioned whether the opt-out approach was a justifiable considering its potential privacy consequences.

"Increasing the number of people using the My Health Record system, in an attempt to drive increased use by healthcare providers, may be regarded as a desirable or convenient outcome but may not be addressing an area of public or social concern that is pressing and substantial enough to warrant limiting the right," the committee, which includes five Coalition members, three Labor MPs, one Green and one independent MP, wrote [pdf].

They argued there was little detail on how the department planned to communicate to individuals that they'd been signed up to the scheme automatically.

The bill also lacked safeguards to ensure individuals are given enough time to opt-out, the committee said, and individuals cannot erase their record once it has been created.

The MPs also argued there was no detail on why the current opt-in model wasn't working.

Ley had not responded publicly to the human rights' committees concerns by the time yesterday's report by the community affairs committee was published.

The bill was introduced in September and amends the existing personally controlled electronic health record (PCEHR) law to create a record for every Australian by default, pending the successful rollout of two trials.

Currently, an individual needs to register for an account before their medical records are uploaded.

The bill would enable health authorities to automatically set up online accounts for an initial pilot group of participants using names, addresses and health identification numbers from the Medicare database.

The concerns of the human rights committee were echoed by the OAIC and the Australian Privacy Foundation, who similarly highlighted potential privacy and public awareness issues with the opt-out approach.

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