President, Barack Obama has promised a massive change to “modernize health care by making all health records standardized and electronic.” Part of his ambitious health care program will be the computerizing of medical records of all Americans in order to make the health care process more cost-effective.
But even proponents of Obama’s plan have mentioned that ensuring the privacy of patients’ records in a nationalized computer network will be tricky. There are obvious concerns about hackers and system failures. And new online health record systems, such as Google Health are not currently subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the national health privacy law.
This is especially true when you consider the advocates of implementing a program using so-called ‘v-chips’ containing all a person’s medical information. No one has said how much information will be contained in those implants. DNA? AIDS information?
With so much information already being compromised within government security systems, how can Obama possibly promise confidentiality of such records?
Although in five years the VeriChip Corp., the US company creating microchip implants, has yet to turn a profit, it has been investing heavily – up to $8 million a year – to create new markets.
The company’s executives have said their present push is the tagging of “high-risk” patients – diabetics and people with heart conditions or Alzheimer’s disease.
In a medical emergency, hospital staff could wave a reader over a patient’s arm, get an ID number, and then, via the Internet, enter a company database and pull up the person’s identity and medical history.
To doctors, a “starter kit” – complete with 10 hypodermic syringes, 10 VeriChips and a reader – costs $1,400, according to information on the Verichip web site. To patients, a microchip implant means a $200, out-of-pocket expense to their physician. Presently, chip implants aren’t covered by private healthcare insurance companies, or by Medicare and Medicaid.
For almost two years, the company has been offering hospitals free scanners, but acceptance has been limited. According to the company’s most recent SEC quarterly filing, 515 hospitals have pledged to take part in the VeriMed network, yet only 100 have actually been equipped and trained to use the system.
Some patients and their families are wondering why they should abandon noninvasive tags such as MedicAlert, a low-tech bracelet, that warns paramedics if patients have serious allergies or a chronic medical condition, for the microchip implants.
In early September, up to 200 Alzheimer’s patients living in the Palm Beach, Florida area were implanted with the microchip by the company VeriChip absolutely free.
The chip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, contains a 16-digit identification number which is scanned at a hospital. Once the number is placed in a database, it can provide crucial medical information. People are already lining up for the VeriChip, but it’s already stirred up controversy.
The story, carried by ABC TV News, caused one reporter to ask, “Is Big Brother watching?”
The relative permanence is a big reason why Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, is suspicious about the motives of the company, which charges an annual fee to keep clients’ records.
The company charges $20 a year for customers to keep a “one-pager” on its database – a record of blood type, allergies, medications, driver’s license data and living-will directives. For $80 a year, it will keep an individual’s full medical history. In recent days, there have been rumors on Wall Street, and elsewhere, of the potential uses for RFID in humans: the chipping of U.S. soldiers, of inmates, or of migrant workers, to name a few.
In May 2008, a protest outside the Alzheimer’s Community Care Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, drew attention to a two-year study in which 200 Alzheimer’s patients, along with their caregivers, were to receive chip implants. Parents, children and elderly people decried the plan, with signs and placards.
“Chipping People Is Wrong” and “People Are Not Pets,” the signs read. And: “Stop VeriChip.”
Dr. Katherine Albrecht, the RFID critic who organized the demonstration, raises similar concerns on her www.AntiChips.com web site.
“Is it appropriate to use the most vulnerable members of society for invasive medical research? Should the company be allowed to implant microchips into people whose mental impairments means they cannot give fully informed consent?” she wrote.
As the polemic heats up, legislators are increasingly being drawn into the fray. Two states, Wisconsin and North Dakota, recently passed laws prohibiting the forced implantation of microchips in humans. Other states, such as Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado and Florida, are studying similar legislation.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma legislators are debating a bill that would authorize microchip implants in people imprisoned for violent crimes. Many felt it would be a good way to monitor felons once released from prison.
But other lawmakers raised concerns. Rep. John Wright worried, “Apparently, we’re going to permanently put the ‘mark’ on these people.”
Rep. Ed Cannaday found the forced microchipping of inmates “invasive.. We are going down that slippery slope.”
Another drawback to microchip implants is the suspicion that they are linked to cancer in test animals. Opponents of human microchipping are concerned with the speed with which these chips received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. Opponents such as Dr. Albrecht believe the FDA approval has more to do with politics than medicine.
Opponents believe the government is choosing the most vulnerable citizens for the initial implants – Alzheimer’s patients, the handicapped, retarded, the elderly – but eventually every human being in the US, Mexico and Canada will be required to have the microchip implants if only to keep track of them and their activities.
“Under the federally supported National Animal Identification System (NAIS), digital tags are expected to be affixed to the U.S.’s 40 million farm animals to enable regulators to track and respond quickly to disease, bioterrorism, and other calamities,” according to a Business Week article.
“Opponents have many fears about this plan, among them that it could be the forerunner of a similar system for humans. The theory, circulated in blogs, goes like this: You test it on the animals first, demonstrating the viability of the radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs) to monitor each and every animal’s movements and health history from birth to death, and then move on to people.”
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and he’s a staff writer for the New Media Alliance (thenma.org). In addition, he’s the new editor for the House Conservatives Fund’s weblog. Kouri also serves as political advisor for Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Michael Moriarty.
He’s former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed “Crack City” by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for several major organizations. He’s also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. Kouri writes for many police and security magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer and others. He’s a news writer for TheConservativeVoice.Com and PHXnews.com. He’s also a columnist for AmericanDaily.Com, NewsCream.Com, MichNews.Com, and he’s syndicated by AXcessNews.Com. He’s appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc.
To subscribe to Kouri’s newsletter write to COPmagazine@aol.com and write “Subcription” on the subject line.