​Labor seeks updated My Health Record legislation to prevent privatisation

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The federal opposition wants to fix the Australian government’s controversial My Health Record, focusing in particular on amending legislation to ensure control of the online medical file can never be privatised or commercialised.

Labor has touted its plan as protecting the privacy of employees and women fleeing domestic violence, and as one protecting the public from having their medical history used by the likes of health insurers.

“Labor supports electronic health records. But the Senate inquiry we initiated into the My Health Record has exposed a range of deficiencies that must be addressed before this scheme rolls out to every Australian,” a statement from Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King said.

Specifically, Labor intends to move amendments to the Bill to prevent My Health Record from being privatised or commercialised; to disallow the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA) from ever delegating access to My Health Record to other entities; to ensure private health insurers cannot access the system’s records, including de-identified data; that the privacy of employees is protected in the context of employer-directed healthcare; and that vulnerable children and parents such as those fleeing domestic violence are protected by narrowing the definition of parental responsibility.

King said the inquiry Labor announced in August revealed a range of “serious flaws” in the current legislation, which she believes were created by the government’s rushed implementation of an opt-out model.

The federal government automatically signed Australians up to My Health Record, giving individuals who wished to opt out of the service from July 16 through to November 15, 2018, to do so.

As of September 12, around 900,000 Australians had opted out.

At the end of August, the government finally began addressing some of the legislative problems with My Health Record: Overly broad access for law enforcement, and the retention of data even when a health record is cancelled. This followed weeks of assertions by Health Minister Greg Hunt that such changes were unnecessary.

“While Labor supports the government’s moves to tighten law enforcement access provisions and enable permanent record deletion, it’s clear these measures alone are simply not enough,” King’s statement continued.

Speaking with ZDNet earlier this week, lawyer and writer Mike Godwin — one of America’s most prominent commentators on digital policy — said that the benefits of My Health Record were unclear.

Godwin thinks the government has done “a very poor job” of justifying My Health Record. In the last couple of months of the opt-out window, at least, it’s been trying to “propagandise” for the centralised digital health record system.

“Honestly, from my perspective, even the best-case stories of My Health Record are kind of lame,” he said.

“If everybody had to carry around a shopping cart full of their health records for every visit to the doctor then you might have a case, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for most Australians.”

Labor wants the opt-out of My Health Record to be suspended until its concerns are addressed.

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