Senate calls on the government to extend health record opt-out

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The Senate has passed a motion calling on health minister Greg Hunt to extend or suspend the opt-out period for the My Health Record.

The opt-out period ends Thursday. However, Labor and a number of stakeholder groups have called on the government to extend the period at least until the parliament approve changes designed to enhance the system's privacy.

The changes mean people will be able to withdraw from My Health Record after the opt-out period ends and all information will be deleted. 

The government also recently adopted a number of other changes recommended by a Senate inquiry, including tougher penalties for breaches of the Act, changes to address concerns around domestic violence and employer access, and additional safeguards to prevent what Labor described as the "privatisation and commercialisation" of the system, including blocking private health insurer access to records.

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

The parliament will not have time to approve the changes before Thursday's opt-out deadline.

The motion backed in the Senate calls on the government to “extend or suspend the opt-out period until the legislation and any amendments are passed, outstanding privacy and security issues are addressed and public confidence in this important reform is restored”.

"Under the Government’s current timetable the opt-out period is due to finish this week," said shadow health minister Catherine King.

"Once it does, the Government will begin creating records for 17 million Australians – whether they want one or not.

"This will occur even though the Government hasn’t actually passed its legislation yet, and cannot pass it before the opt-out period ends. There’s no guarantee the legislation will even pass this year – meaning some Australians may opt out unnecessarily over concerns that are addressed by the legislation.

"The Government should listen to Labor and to the Senate and extend the opt-out period," added Ms King.