Medical ID Number

August 4, 1998
Last week I talked about plans by the federal Department of Transportation to establish a national ID card. Today I'd like to talk about the concurrent plans by the Department of Health and Human Services to assign everyone a lifetime medical ID number.

The purpose of the ID number is to make it easier to keep accurate records of patients as they change doctors and health plans. The identification was required in a 1996 law that guarantees workers continued access to health coverage even if they change jobs.

One solution proposed is to merely use Social Security numbers. But doing that could give credit card companies and other organizations access to medical records. This would raise a greater concern over privacy of medical records. And that's the point. Even a secure number still could pose a privacy nightmare by potentially giving everyone from insurance companies to computer hackers access to medical histories.

One doctor expressed his concern that a "unique patient identifier could lead to a central database." He fears that "someone without permission could break into those records." But even if the record is secure, doctors fear that patients will withhold embarrassing information if there's a chance someone else might get access to the records.

Robert Gellman, an information policy consultant said at a recent hearing, "Once everyone's required to use a government-issued health identification card, it may become impossible for any American citizen to walk down the street without being forced to produce that card on demand by a policeman."

Frankly I think the Department of Health and Human Services' plan for a medical identification number is a bad idea. As they say in the insurance business, they need to get a second opinion.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.

© 1998 Probe Ministries International