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Database Nation by Simson Garfinkel

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Privacy Is Not Your insurance Company's Responsibility

While my local hospital is busy reminding its employees to respect patient confidentiality, my health insurance company is busy reminding me that privacy is not compatible with its way of doing business.

Like nearly all Americans, in order to have my insurance pay for a doctor's visit, I have to fill out a claim form. And at the bottom of the form is a little contract that washes away any quaint preconceptions of privacy that I might have. The contract is called a consent form. It says:

I authorize any physician, hospital, or other medically related facility, insurance company, or other organization, institution or person, that has any records or knowledge of me, my dependents, or our health, to disclose, whenever requested to do so by CNA or its representatives, any and all such information. A photostatic copy of this authorization shall be considered as effective and valid as the original.

I'm not a lawyer, but it doesn't take a lawyer to understand what this consent form means. As a precondition to having my insurance company reimburse me the $50 for the doctor's visit and the $14 for my antibiotics, I authorize everybody to divulge all of my records to anybody. This blanket authorization covers all records: school records, tax records, and bank records. It even covers those embarrassing love letters I wrote to my ninth-grade girlfriend. And it is an indefinite authorization, with no expiration date or time period.

Some people ...

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