Govt tweaks e-health Bill

Govt tweaks e-health Bill

Summary: The government has proposed amendments to legislation enabling its plan to provide Australians with health identifiers — individual numbers to connect health information — and has also revised regulations underpinning the Bill.

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The government has proposed amendments to legislation enabling its plan to provide Australians with health identifiers — individual numbers to connect health information — and has also revised regulations underpinning the Bill.

Roxon said the government had considered recommendations by the Opposition and a Senate Committee, which had inspected the Bill.

Changes included ensuring that any alterations to Medicare Australia's role can only be made through legislation, and allowing providers to continue to use information services from contractors, as long as they met security and privacy protections.

The regulations to support the Bill were also tweaked to provide more clarity for healthcare organisations on how they would communicate with Health Identifiers Service and also to lay out administrative requirements to discourage unauthorised access. A right of review for providers not granted a health identifier has also been included, as recommended by the Opposition.

The Opposition had been particularly concerned about the chance of scope creep for the identifiers.

"The legislation has strong provisions to restrict the use of healthcare identifiers. No uses of the identifiers will be permitted other than those set out in the Bill. Any additional uses would require changes to the legislation, providing strong protection against 'function creep'," Roxon's office said.

The oversight amendment had helped with function creep, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health Services, Health and Wellbeing Andrew Southcott said, but other concerns hadn't been addressed.

One concern was that the provisions for the healthcare identifiers to be accessed by other agencies had not been removed. The Opposition would also liked to have seen the right of review for providers in legislation, not just in the regulations. It also would have preferred to see amendments such as the operator of the health identifier service — currently Medicare — could only be changed vis-a-vis legislation.

Roxon said that the Opposition's other recommendations "would make it difficult for the healthcare identifiers service to operate" or were "contrary to the intent of the legislation".

Southcott's office said the Opposition would "insist" on the amendments the government had not yet addressed.

The government had hoped to have the identifiers assigned to patients from 1 July; however, the legislation has not yet been passed through the Senate. It is scheduled for hearing in the next Senate sitting from 15 June.

The identifiers are the base supporting the government's $466.7 million investment in health, which will give patients the choice if they want to use their number to create a secure electronic record. Personally controlled electronic health records will need separate legislation, according to Roxon's office.

Topics: Health, Government, Government AU

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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  • I've never quite understood the obsession with limitting the functionality of identifiers. Surely it is not whether two or more agencies can use the same identifier as whether the two agencies can share the information that is stored under the identifier.

    For most people their name address and date of birth has to function as the identifier. I'm actually lucky - my name is as far as I can tell unique. That's right - the world is lucky - there is only one David Havyatt.

    Should I insist that Government agencies not be allowed to store their records about me under my name because it is a unique identifier?

    I suggest that those of you not already blessed by having a unique identifier that is your name should start agitating that you WANT scope creep.
    dhavyatt