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Is Your Health Information Really Private?

by Katlyn Joy | February 3, 2015 4:38 PM
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The Affordable Care Act and the scramble to get everyone signed up on healthcare.gov has led to new discussions about what of our health information is protected properly, even by government agencies.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF, a nonprofit organization formed in 1990, is a watchdog group dedicated to protecting civil liberties in the digital world. EFF followed up on the news released by the Associated Press that information from the government site, healthcare.gov was passing along information to commercial entities such as Google and other groups like Chartbeat and Optimizely. These groups are not the only ones who may get the information, though. EFF asserts that the personal information found in referrer headers have made it to Twitter, Yahoo, Youtube, and even Facebook.

For those who think they are protected if they chose the option, "Do not track," on the website, not so fast. Apparently, this doesn't keep this info from flowing to these businesses.

Aaron Albright, a spokesman for healthcare.gov stated that these outside vendors, "are prohibited from using information from these tools on HealthCare.gov for their companies' purposes" and are there for the sole purpose of site performance measurement.

No evidence that the data has been misused to date has been produced, either.

Information that can be detected through the referrer headers include zipcode, income level, whether the person is pregnant, a smoker, a parent and the age.

All this raises concerns about what potential leaks or abuses could occur in the future.

EFF pointed out that the existence of these third party resources creates a bigger target for hackers.

The healthcare.gov site gives recommendations on keeping your information safe. It says to never give out personal info such as your bank account info, or credit card account numbers to anyone identifying as being from the Marketplace. It also states to never give out personal data such as what treatments you've received or other medical history.

Should you be contacted by someone other than the insurance company you've chosen and they ask about your medical history, or your financial information, or they ask you to pay for coverage, do not comply. Also, should anyone say they are from Obamacare and need you to pay for an insurance card, don't give any money or info to them. Also, never give anyone data such as your personal health history or any financial details like bank or credit card account numbers, even if they say they are from the government.

If you think someone attempted or did anything fraud related, you should contact the local police as well as going to the Federal Trade Commission's website to file a complaint. Also, you should call the Health Insurance Marketplace at 1-855-889-4325 and give details on what occurred.

Further tips about protecting your medical information can be found at healthit.gov. They recommend never posting anything personal online. Know the privacy policies of any health care provider's practice. What are they doing to keep your data safe?

Be aware that medical identity thieves exist and will use your medical information to obtain prescriptions, medical treatment or even surgery. To protect yourself, never freely give out your information without first verifying the identity of who you are dealing with.

Always shred documents containing health information, such as forms from the doctor's office, prescription info and if you store medical information on your computer, safeguard your computer with a solid password that would not be easily deducted from having your basic information like names, birthdates and such.

By being aware and vigilant, read all of the HIPAA policies, ask pertinent questions, and always being wary of who is asking personal questions. You can do a lot to protect yourself and your medical and financial data.


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