The opt-out period for My Health Record has been extended to January 31st following a vote in the Australian senate today. The e-health system’s website reportedly crashed today as Australians scrambled to opt out before the previously scheduled deadline of tomorrow.

Labor and the Greens had been pushing for a 12 month extension following a Senate Inquiry that found several security and privacy flaws in the scheme which was originally designed as an opt-in model.

The 12 month extension was squarely rejected by the health minister Greg Hunt at the time saying the opt-out period would not be extended so as not to “delay the benefits to patients”. 

Today Labor’s 12 month extension was voted down 32-30 in the Senate but an amendment by One Nation to extend the opt-out period to January 31st passed.

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the extension on Twitter this afternoon, saying the government had “worked with the senate crossbench to extend the opt-out period for My Health Record”.

“The opt-out period will be extended until January 31, 2019, however, it’s important to note that people can opt-out at any time,” Hunt tweeted.

Hunt’s announcement drew the ire of Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare, Catherine King, who accused the Health Minister of lying, saying the opt-out period could have been extended at any point by the Government.

More time needed

On Tuesday newly elected independent member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps, a GP and critic of My Health Record, said the confusion and privacy concerns warranted an extension.

“The government needs to take seriously the decision of the senate to recommend an extension of the opt-out date,” Dr Phelps said.

“Anyone who has legitimate concerns over My Health Record now has little choice but to opt out until these problems are addressed.”

According to the Digital Health Agency, responsible for My Health Record, at least 900,000 Australians opted out of the scheme in the first two months of the opt-out period. That figure was provided during a Senate Inquiry in September but the agency has refused to provide more up to date figures since.

Greg Hunt has already conceded several change to strengthen the My Health Record legislation following two senate inquires and criticism from privacy and health groups. The original deadline was also extended by one month earlier this year.

MHR website failure

Many Australians have waited to the 11th hour to opt out of having a medical record automatically generated, putting the system under considerable strain.

Some users reported that while attempting to opt out online today they were greeted with server failures and a direction to use the phone option instead. However, users are reporting disconnections and busy messages via phone as well.

The Digital Health Agency has denied there was an outage, saying the system had slowed down under the higher demand but remained operational.

The incident will do little to quell fears that the system is not designed for an opt out model that will likely see millions of records automatically created.

Dr Bernard Robertson-Dunn, Chair, Health Committee at the Australian Privacy Foundation preempted the potential technical difficulties and argues the opt out period should be extended to better inform Australians of the risks and benefits of the scheme.

“There is obvious broad disquiet and substantive community concern: over a million people have opted out; there have been reports of recurrent crashes of the opt-out web site and helpdesk; and the number of people wanting to opt-out seems to have jumped, in line with the recent increased publicity,” Robertson-Dunn said last week.

“This disquiet and concern can largely be attributed to the paucity of information about the opt-out campaign and the lack of balanced information of My Health Record on the government’s websites which only spruik claimed benefits.

“People have not been given all the information they need on which to make an informed decision.”

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