My Health Record changes block insurer access

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One week for Australians to opt-out of the My Health Record system and for parliament to back changes designed to enhance the system's privacy.

Under the changes, people will be able to withdraw from My Health Record after the opt-out period ends and all information will be deleted. Under the original plan, some basic information about all records would have been kept for up to 130 years, even if a patient requested its deletion.

A Senate inquiry recommended the government extend the opt-out period for another 12 months. However, health minister Greg Hunt says the government is pushing ahead with the 15 November deadline.

Labor proposed a range of additional changes, including tougher penalties for breaches of the Act, changes to address concerns around domestic violence and employer access, and additional safeguards to prevent what it described as the "privatisation and commercialisation" of the system, including by preventing private health insurer from accessing records.

The changes mean insurers will be explicitly prevented from accessing de-identified data for any purpose.

The rationale for this change appears unclear given the community rating rules under which everyone pays the same premium regardless of their age or health status.

Labor also proposed a 12-month extension in the opt-out deadline.

The government has accepted all of Labor's proposed changes except the deadline extension.

The Australian Medical Association says it backs parliamentary approval of the changes.

“The My Health Record may not yet be perfect, but it will get there with the support of the public and the health professions. It is better than anything else out there now. Some doctors are still using their fax machines. We need to move into the 21stcentury," said AMA President Dr Tony Bartone.

“What is at stake is an important tool to boost the access to vital health information on the patient journey through the health system.

“We are now at the point where we can realise the potential and the dividend of a decade’s work and billions of dollars of investment."

The Consumers Health Forum also backed the changes but called for an extension in the opt-out deadline.

“The period for people to opt out of MHR is currently set for November 15 which will make it difficult to completely examine the proposed amendments to legislation which now go well beyond the Government’s previous revisions which take steps to to ensure that law enforcement agencies can only access a record with a warrant or court order and to allow the permanent deletion of records of people opting out," said CEO Leanne Wells.

“The response today of Health Minister Hunt to the recommendations raised by the Senate Committee which inquired into MHR, and by the Opposition and other political parties, relate to important questions of access and security, provision of community education about MHR and secondary use of data generated by MHR.

“We urge our political leaders to work towards an all-party settlement before the opt out deadline is implemented.

“If that is not possible before 15 November, that formal deadline should be extended."