November 10, 2010, 2:10 PM — In response to considerable privacy concerns, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could soon release more details on its plans to build a controversial new database containing information on the healthcare claims of millions of Americans.
The agency will also likely delay its planned November 15 launch of the new database to accommodate a broad public evaluation of its plans, said an analyst from the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
The CDT was one of 16 organizations that late last month sent a letter to OPM director John Berry asking for more information on the agency's proposed Health Claims Data Warehouse. The letter was prompted by what CDT and the other organizations claimed was a serious lack of details about the new database, and by OPM's assertions that it would share collected health-related data with law enforcement, third-party researchers and others.
The letter , whose signatories included the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Federation of Government Employees, urged the OPM not to establish such a database without giving the public a fair chance to review its plans.
Harley Geiger, policy counsel for the CDT, said on Monday that OPM had informed CDT that it will soon be releasing more detailed information on the database, and on the privacy and security controls that will be put into place to protect the data.
A formal notice describing OPM's plans will be published in the Federal Register some time after November 15, after the agency has had a chance to review all the comments it has received on its proposed database, Geiger said.
Geiger stressed on Monday that the CDT is not opposed to the creation of an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system. Such a system will bring significant new efficiencies that a paper-based system such as the one in place today simply cannot deliver, he said.
CDT's purpose in pressing OPM for more details is solely to ensure that any new database that is created is really needed and has all the necessary security and privacy controls in place, he said. "People are not going to trust EHR if the confidentiality of their records is at risk," Geiger said.
A spokeswoman for the OPM would neither confirm nor deny whether the agency was going to be providing more details on the database, or if the launch would be delayed. "Unfortunately, that is not something we have information about currently," the spokeswoman said by e-mail.