Senators urge inclusion of healthcare privacy bill in COVID-19 relief package

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U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined a group of senators in a letter to Senate leaders urging them to include the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act in the next coronavirus relief package.

“As you begin negotiations on another coronavirus stimulus package, we write to urge inclusion of commonsense privacy protections for COVID health data. Building public trust in COVID screening tools will be essential to ensuring meaningful participation in such efforts. With research consistently showing that Americans are reluctant to adopt COVID screening and tracing apps due to privacy concerns, the lack of health privacy protections could significantly undermine efforts to contain this virus and begin to safely re-open – particularly with many screening tools requiring a critical mass in order to provide meaningful benefits,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor.

According to a recent survey, 84 percent of Americans feel uneasy about sharing their personal health information for COVID-19 related mitigation efforts. Public reluctance can be attributed to a myriad of investigative reports and congressional hearings that have exposed widespread secondary use of Americans data over the years.

The senators noted that with the inclusion of their bill, Congress can establish commonsense targeted rules to ensure the collection, retention, and use of data by COVID screening tools are focused on combatting COVID and not for extraneous, invasive, or discriminatory purposes.

“Our urgent and forceful response to COVID-19 can coexist with protecting and even bolstering our health privacy. If not appropriately addressed, these issues could lead to a breakdown in public trust that could ultimately thwart successful public health surveillance initiatives. Privacy experts, patient advocates, civil rights leaders, and public interest organizations have resoundingly called for strong privacy protections to govern technological measures offered in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In the absence of a federal privacy framework, experts and enforcers – including the Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection of Federal Trade Commission – have encouraged targeted rules on this sensitive health data. The Public Health Emergency Privacy Act meets the needs raised by privacy and public health communities, and has been resoundingly endorsed by experts and civil society groups,” the Senators continued.

A copy of the letter can be found here.


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