View Full Version : U.S. Issues Democratic Health Care Bill Divulges IRS Tax Data

08-27-2009, 05:05 PM

Posted by Declan McCullagh
August 26, 2009 8:26 PM

One of the problems with any proposed law that's over 1,000 pages long and constantly changing is that much deviltry can lie in the details. Take the Democrats' proposal to rewrite health care policy, better known as H.R. 3200 or by opponents as "Obamacare." (Here's our CBS News television coverage.)

Section 431(a) of the bill says that the IRS must divulge taxpayer identity information, including the filing status, the modified adjusted gross income, the number of dependents, and "other information as is prescribed by" regulation. That information will be provided to the new Health Choices Commissioner and state health programs and used to determine who qualifies for "affordability credits."

Section 245(b)(2)(A) says the IRS must divulge tax return details -- there's no specified limit on what's available or unavailable -- to the Health Choices Commissioner. The purpose, again, is to verify "affordability credits."

Section 1801(a) says that the Social Security Administration can obtain tax return data on anyone who may be eligible for a "low-income prescription drug subsidy" but has not applied for it.

Over at the Institute for Policy Innovation (a free-market think tank and presumably no fan of Obamacare), Tom Giovanetti argues that: "How many thousands of federal employees will have access to your records? The privacy of your health records will be only as good as the most nosy, most dishonest and most malcontented federal employee.... So say good-bye to privacy from the federal government. It was fun while it lasted for 233 years."

I'm not as certain as Giovanetti that this represents privacy's Armageddon. (Though I do wonder where the usual suspects like the Electronic Privacy Information Center are. Presumably inserting limits on information that can be disclosed -- and adding strict penalties on misuse of the information kept on file about hundreds of millions of Americans -- is at least as important as fretting about Facebook's privacy policy in Canada.)

A better candidate for a future privacy crisis is the so-called stimulus bill enacted with limited debate early this year. It mandated the "utilization of an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014," but included only limited privacy protections.

It's true that if the legislative branch chooses to create "affordability credits," it probably makes sense to ensure they're not abused. The goal of curbing fraud runs up against the goal of preserving individual privacy.

If we're going to have such significant additional government intrusion into our health care system, we will have to draw the privacy line somewhere. Maybe the House Democrats' current bill gets it right. Maybe it doesn't. But this vignette should be reason to be skeptical of claims that a massive and complex bill must be enacted as rapidly as its backers would have you believe.

Update August 27 11 a.m: Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says in e-mail: "We would oppose section 431(a) of the bill because it violates the intent of the Privacy Act which generally requires agencies to obtain information directly from individuals and not from other agencies." EPIC still hasn't updated their Web site to reflect this sentiment, but it's good to know that other folks have concerns too.









08-27-2009, 05:12 PM
Eeeeow! Totalitarians in power!

Saul Good
08-27-2009, 05:44 PM
What a bunch of losers. They don't even have professional-looking signs like the Democrat protesters.

Chief Henry
08-27-2009, 05:48 PM
How do you like those apples ? Allowing our tax returns to be seen by political hacks !

09-11-2009, 08:54 AM

OK, President Obama has had his say on health care. Now let's look at some inconvenient truths.

Obama insisted Wednesday that his public-option plan would save tax dollars, while not adding "one dime" to the deficit. Moreover, he said, "nothing in our plan requires you to change what [health insurance] you have."

The first claim is demonstrably false; the second, profoundly misleading.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has reported that the House Democratic bills would add $220 billion to the deficit over the next decade -- and even more after that.

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Meanwhile, Obama was technically correct when he said that no one would be required to change their current insurance coverage under his plan. But it doesn't guarantee that they'll be able to keep it, either.

That's a significant change -- in the wrong direction -- from his repeated 2008 campaign promise that "if you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period."

In fact, the added taxes and mandates that he would institute on private plans would so undercut private insurance that many employers surely would drop health-care coverage.

And that would end up dumping their employees into a public option -- especially if private insurance remains available primarily through employers.

There are many more points in which the president's claims are open to serious question -- including whether illegal aliens would be covered, whether health care inevitably would be rationed and just how serious he is about instituting tort reform to help bring down costs.

(Significantly, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whom Obama named as his point person on tort reform, was the longtime director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association. So be warned.)

It's important, in other words, to approach the president's speech as one would approach anything involving insurance.

Read the fine print.