November 04, 2010, 11:28 AM — Several privacy groups have raised alarms over plans by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to build a database that would contain information about the healthcare claims of millions of Americans.
The concerns have surfaced because the OPM has provided few details about the new database and because the data collected will be shared with law enforcement, third-party researchers and others.
In a letter to OPM Director John Berry, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) and 15 other organizations asked the agency to release more details on the need for the database and how the data contained in it will be protected and used.
The OPM "should not create this massive database full of detailed individual health records without giving the public a full and fair chance to evaluate the specifics of the program," the letter cautioned.
It also called upon the OPM to delay its proposed Nov. 15 launch date for the database because there was not enough time for independent observers to evaluate the proposal.
According to the OPM, the planned Health Claims Data Warehouse is designed to help the agency more cost-effectively manage three health claims programs: the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), the National Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Program and the Multi-State Option Plan.
The pre-existing condition program, which launched in August, and the multi-state option plan, which is scheduled to go into effect in January 2014, were both introduced earlier this year as part of the Affordable Care Act , the law designed to overhaul health care in the U.S. that was signed by President Obama in March. The OPM is in charge of administering the FEHBP as well as the two new programs.
In a formal notice published in the Federal Register last month, the OPM said that creating a central and comprehensive database would allow it to more actively manage the programs and ensure "best value for both enrollees and taxpayers."
As part of the effort, the OPM will establish direct data feeds with each of the three programs and will continuously collect, manage and analyze health services data. The data that the agency collects will include individuals' names, addresses, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, plus the names of their spouses and other information about dependents, and information about their healthcare coverage, procedures and diagnoses.