The Internal Revenue Service is facing a class action lawsuit alleging that more than 60 million personal medical records were improperly accessed, and stolen, by agents from the embattled agency. It’s just one more reason, as I wrote yesterday, to re-think the agency’s role under Obamacare.
Inevitably, Obamacare confers the IRS with broad access to information about our health insurance, as well as direct electronic linkages into a new government super computer that will also store a lot of bottom line information about our individual healthcare choices.
It’s a recipe for mischief by an agency that’s proving that it can’t be fully trusted.
This isn’t a fictional, Orwellian vision. It’s a reality of how Obamacare was structured. And how much the law depends on enforcement meted out by the IRS.
The Obama Administration probably didn’t set out to design the system this way. But a myriad of concessions made to accommodate the law’s vast scope and intrusive provisions has placed many of its applications in the lap of the IRS.
In a story reported by Erin McCann of Healthcare IT News, (You can follow her on Twitter @EMcCannHITN), the IRS is alleged to have improperly accessed some 60 million medical records from 10 million Americans, including medical records of all California state judges.
According to a story by Courthousenews.com, whose correspondent Rebekah Kearn first reported on the legal skirmish, an unnamed healthcare provider in California is bringing the lawsuit against the IRS and 15 of its agents. The personal health information was allegedly seized by the IRS on March 11, 2011.
The medical records included information on psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual and drug treatment, and other sensitive medical treatment data. A copy of the legal complaint can be purchasedHERE for $35.
“This is an action involving the corruption and abuse of power by several Internal Revenue Service agents,” the complaint reads.
“No search warrant authorized the seizure of these records; no subpoena authorized the seizure of these records; none of the 10,000,000 Americans were under any kind of known criminal or civil investigation and their medical records had no relevance whatsoever to the IRS search. IT personnel at the scene, a HIPPA facility warning on the building and the IT portion of the searched premises, and the company executives each warned the IRS agents of these privileged records,” it continued.
The claim asserts that the IRS agents’ seizure of medical records violated the 4th Amendment.
“These medical records contained intimate and private information of more than 10,000,000 Americans, information that by its nature includes information about treatment for any kind of medical concern, including psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual or drug treatment, and a wide range of medical matters covering the most intimate and private of concerns,” the complaint states.
“Despite knowing that these medical records were not within the scope of the warrant, defendants threatened to ‘rip’ the servers containing the medical data out of the building if IT personnel would not voluntarily hand them over,” the complaint reads.
“Moreover, even though defendants knew that the records they were seizing were not included within the scope of the search warrant, the defendants nonetheless searched and seized the records without making any attempt to segregate the files from those that could possibly be related to the search warrant. In fact, no effort was made at all to even try maintaining the illusion of legitimacy and legality.”
According to the complaint, the IRS agents had a search warrant for financial data pertaining to a former employee of the John Doe company, however, “it did not authorize any seizure of any healthcare or medical record of any persons, least of all third parties completely unrelated to the matter.”
The IRS has not returned requests for comment.
Recent mischief over the political targeting of conservative groups should give us pause about turning over to the IRS a greater role in regulating healthcare.
Truth is, every indication suggests that the agency doesn’t even want the obligations it’s being given under Obamcare. It rightly recognizes that it has enough on its plate already.
There is no reason these bureaucratic burdens can’t be discharged elsewhere inside the government. The IRS was pulled into Obamacare not out of necessity, but expediency. It was judged that handing over certain obligations to the IRS would be the fastest way to get the law implemented.
The Obama Administration shouldn’t settle for this. Neither should we.
Americans should demand that the Obama team work a little harder to get its signature legislation off the ground without pulling the IRS so deeply into our healthcare choices — and bringing the agency so close to the private information about our medical care.