Big Brother in Your Medicine Cabinet

March 18, 2012
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Should individuals be required to give up their privacy and submit to government tracking as a condition of receiving medical care? Some Colorado elected officials say yes. They introduced House Bill 12-1242. It would make providing a biometric identifier a condition of getting a prescription or regulated over-the-counter drug.

Should individuals be required to give up their privacy and submit to government tracking as a condition of receiving medical care? Some Colorado elected officials say yes. They introduced House Bill 12-1242. It would make providing a biometric identifier a condition of getting a prescription or regulated over-the-counter drug.

Want to buy SUDAFED 12 Hour or pick up a prescription at Wal-Mart? Prepare to be fingerprinted or iris scanned or the like and have the details of your purchase, along with your name, address, biometric identifier, and prescriber name and address and biometric identifier stored in a government database. Dispensing a drug to someone who doesn’t provide this information would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable with a minimum sentence of a $500 fine, or six months in jail, or both.

Though supporters talk about the importance of controlling methamphetamine precursors, alerting people to harmful drug interactions, and eliminating doctor shopping by prescription drug abusers, the language of the bill makes it crystal clear that the ultimate goal of this legislation is the improvement of the state’s ability to track and control physician prescribing. It explicitly requires the adoption of an “electronic prescribing system” in order to “monitor the collection of biometric identifiers” for everyone in the state who needs any prescription or restricted over-the-counter drug, “and to record and store” information on “the prescribing of prescription drugs…by practitioners in this state,” the “dispensing or delivering or prescription drugs to an individual in this state,” and “the dispensing or delivering of restricted over-the-counter substances.”

If passed, this bill would allow government to gather previously unavailable data on the biometric identifiers of law-abiding individuals. When combined with data from Colorado’s All-Payer Claims Database, which already requires detailed reporting on all medical encounters, and the ObamaCare electronic health record, the biometric identifier and drug data will give the state all the information it needs to monitor and control both the medical treatments physicians are allowed to offer and the medical treatments that individuals can receive.

The bill language does not specify conditions under which people will be guaranteed access to their medications should the software fail, slow to a crawl, or misidentify someone. The actual rules will be written by bureaucrats. There is no safe harbor for people faced with a slow database or one that is not working except for a nebulous “good faith” provision. The bill does not explicitly protect the right of a third party to pick up a prescription for someone else. Virtually all politically powerful inpatient facilities were exempted.

Instead of guaranteeing access, the bill specifically says that no drug can be dispensed if the software produces a “critical alert” or “warning” that requires a “practitioner” to biometrically acknowledge receipt of the “critical alert” or “warning.”

The question, of course, is what happens if the software denies access to someone in Colorado who has been seeing an out-of-state physician who manages to practice top-flight medicine without being hooked up to Colorado’s nanny-state monitoring system? Will access also be denied to someone prescribed pain medications that the software doesn’t like by a surgeon who can’t come to the biometric reader right now because he has his fingerprints in someone’s guts? Will people who travel a lot and fill prescriptions at a national pharmacy chain be denied drugs in Colorado?

Supporters, including companies that stand to do very well by locking the state into their proprietary software, say that the bill will not raise costs, will not inconvenience anyone, and will help combat illegal drug use. They probably also believe that Santa Claus delivers complex database systems, that the Tooth Fairy pays their maintenance costs, and that they are from the government and they’re here to help.

    

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