From today Australians have 31 days to opt out of the controversial ehealth scheme, My Health Record (MHR). As the deadline approaches the chorus of criticism for MHR has not subsided and the Senate committee investigating the scheme has been granted another extension.
The broader inquiry into MHR was scheduled to release its report last Friday, but a second extension was granted and a report is now expected on Wednesday, less than one month before the November 15th opt out deadline.
The second inquiry released its report on Friday, recommending the legislation proposed by Greg Hunt to strengthen MHR be passed. Despite supporting the changes overall, committee senators from Labor and The Greens argued the proposed changes did not go far enough to ensure privacy and security.
In the report, Labor Senators described the MHR legislation as “woefully inadequate” and that a “range of serious flaws” had been revealed during the inquiry. According to Labor, the flaws would not be addressed by the proposed legislation changes and the opt out deadline should be suspended until they can be addressed.
Labor, which introduced the original digital health record scheme on which My Health Record is based, argue the system is designed for an opt-in model and MHR’s flaws are the result of a “rushed implementation of an opt-out model”.
“Legislation and settings that made sense in Labor’s opt-in model – when informed consent was assured – make no sense under the Government’s opt-out model,” Labor Senators said in the report.
Labor said it intends to move amendments to the bill to address the shortcomings including changes to ensure MHR is not privatised.
According to Shadow Health Minister, Catherine King, as the legislation currently stands, consumers can’t be certain the scheme won’t be privatised or that their data won’t be monetised by third parties.
“The Australian people need guarantees that the My Health Record won’t be privatised or commercialised,” King told Fairfax Media.
“And they need guarantees that private health insurers will never get access to their data.”
Failure to launch
My Health Record is a digital health record accessible by healthcare providers, and has existed in some form since 2012 as an opt in service. However, this year, following low enrolment, the Digital Health Agency — the Government agency responsible for the scheme — announced MHR would be switching to opt out. It was a controversial move that, at the time, raised questions over security, privacy and scope creep.
The timing of the announcement – during the weekend of the Royal Wedding – and a lacklustre awareness campaign prompted some to argue the opt out switch was being deliberately under promoted with a view to capture more data — more health records arguably improves the value of the scheme.
The Digital Health Agency maintained it was being transparent in the switch and had no opt out target rates, adding the system had adequate privacy and security provisions.
Ultimately the move to opt-out prompted significant public backlash including the government’s former tech guru slamming the scheme’s role out and questioning its security.
In mid August, MHR was referred to a Senate inquiry that would would eventually received 1116 submissions, hold three public hearings and reveal nearly one million people had opted out out of the scheme at their first chance and just 200,000 had opted in.
In a bid to address public concerns, government health minister Greg Hunt conceded several changes to the legislation underpinning MHR aimed at strengthening privacy and security. Hunt’s proposed bill was also referred for an senate inquiry and report.
- Read more:
– Cover Story: Every Australian Could Have A Digital Health Record By October 15. But Critics Question The Value
– Controversial My Health Record Opt Out Period Begins Amid Privacy Concerns
– Former DTA CEO Slams My Health Record Roll Out
As mentioned above, last week the inquiry found the proposed bill to strengthen MHR legislation should be passed, notwithstanding Labor and The Greens concerns.
Privacy concerns remain
Privacy advocates have been stronger in their condemnation, including the Australian Privacy Foundation. The NGO set up to promote Australian privacy rights is calling for the MHR scheme to be scrapped or at least for the opt out component be removed, until privacy and security concerns are addressed.
“The legislation that has enabled the My Health Record system for the past six years has been shown to be unacceptable to many,” Dr Bernard Robertson-Dunn, Chair, Health Committee, Australian Privacy Foundation, told Which-50.
“The government’s rushed attempts to rectify some of the shortcomings has still left a number of weaknesses unresolved.”
According to Robertson-Dunn, Labor’s promise to rewrite and further strengthen MHR legislation is also inadequate.
“No government can prevent future governments from rescinding or modifying existing legislation,” he said.
“The only safe option is for the government to at least retain the existing opt-in model for those who see value in it for them, or preferably to abandon the system as being too costly and too risky.”