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GOP fears about IRS’ access to medical records disputed

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GOP fears about IRS’ access to medical records disputed

Listening to recent statements from some congressional Republicans, you might think that the 2010 health law allows the Internal Revenue Service to have access to your medical records.

Not so, says the Department of Health and Human Services. "The Affordable Care Act maintains strict privacy controls to safeguard personal information.  The IRS will not have access to personal health information," said agency spokeswoman Erin Shields Britt.

Republicans have pounced on news reports that the IRS unfairly targeted conservative groups for greater scrutiny when the groups sought tax-exempt status. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said the health law "will allow bureaucrats access to our most intimate, personal health care information."  Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a physician, said he was "quite worried about the privacy of medical records. I'm quite worried now that your medical records will be evaluated by the IRS."

The IRS does play a key role in implementing the 2010 health care law. Those duties include enforcing the law's requirement that most individuals have health insurance or pay a fine and helping determine whether individuals are eligible for a tax credit to help afford health insurance premiums.

During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Friday into the IRS scandal, Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., also a physician, asked Steven Miller, who recently resigned from his post as acting IRS commissioner, if the agency had access to individuals' medical information. Here are the key points:

McDermott: "We need to find some truth here…. And I've heard members of this committee now talk about it. The IRS can't access your medical files. Is that true, Mr. Miller?"

Miller: "Correct, sir."

McDermott: "They cannot find out your private medical information?"

Miller: "That's correct, sir."

McDermott: "Their job in Obamacare is simply to collect financial information on which a determination is made as to whether somebody can get a subsidy for their premium. Is that correct?"

Miller: "Were you covered and over what period is what we would be getting."

Non-government analysts offer a similar assessment. Joanna Kerpen, a partner at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, advises clients on compliance with the 2010 health care law. She says that as part of the health law's implementation the IRS "should not have access to an individual's medical record, but they will have access to an individual's coverage status."

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent news service. It is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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