This article originally appeared in the American Bar Association’s Health eSource here.

By KIRK NAHRA

This piece is part of the series “The Health Data Goldilocks Dilemma: Sharing? Privacy? Both?” which explores whether it’s possible to advance interoperability while maintaining privacy. Check out other pieces in the series here.

Congress is debating whether to enact a national privacy law.  Such a law would upend the approach that has been taken so far in connection with privacy law in the United States, which has either been sector specific (healthcare, financial services, education) or has addressed specific practices (telemarketing, email marketing, data gathering from children).  The United States does not, today, have a national privacy law.  Pressure from the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)1 and from California, through the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA),2 are driving some of this national debate.  

The conventional wisdom is that, while the United States is moving towards this legislation, there is still a long way to go.  Part of this debate is a significant disagreement about many of the core provisions of what would go into this law, including (but clearly not limited to) how to treat healthcare — either as a category of data or as an industry.

So far, healthcare data may not be getting enough attention in the debate, driven (in part) by the sense of many that healthcare privacy already has been addressed.  Due to the odd legislative history of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA),3 however, we are seeing the implications of a law that (1) was driven by considerations not involving privacy and security, and (2) reflected a concept of an industry that no longer reflects how the healthcare system works today.  Accordingly, there is  a growing volume of  “non-HIPAA health data,” across enormous segments of the economy, and the challenge of figuring out

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