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Government releases draft health ID legislation

The Federal Government today released draft legislation to assign a unique healthcare identifier number to every provider and consumer, as agreed to the Coalition of Australian Governments meeting earlier this week.
Written by Josh Mehlman, Contributor on

The Federal Government today released draft legislation to assign a unique healthcare identifier number to every provider and consumer, as agreed at the Coalition of Australian Governments meeting earlier this week.

The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) and Medicare have already developed a healthcare identifiers system, which is set to enter testing this month.

The government says the lack of a single, reliable identifier has been an impediment to developing a secure national e-health system.

"To date, there has been no single method of accurately and reliably identifying either the people receiving healthcare, the healthcare providers or the organisations managing care," said a statement from Nicola Roxon, minister for Health and Ageing.

"Mismatching of patient information has been an acknowledged problem in the health system.

"These unique identifiers will provide a new level of confidence and accuracy when communicating patient information across and between private and government healthcare providers involved in providing care to patients."

The legislation appoints Medicare to implement the healthcare identifiers service. Medicare must assign unique identifiers to each healthcare provider and recipient, and maintain accurate information about the person or organisation associated with each one.

"As a trusted government authority, Medicare has the national infrastructure, as well as the industry and community relationships, needed to securely deliver and maintain the identifiers," the statement said.

Identifiers will automatically be assigned to all Australians who are listed on a Medicare card or a Department of Veterans' Affairs treatment card. The legislation also sets out rules for assigning temporary healthcare identifiers to other people, such as non-citizens, who use the health system.

The legislation strictly limits the use of these identifiers to within the healthcare system. They can't be disclosed to a consumer's health or life insurance company or employer. The Federal Privacy Commissioner will provide independent oversight of how the identifier can be used.

The government's approach to e-health has come under criticism from the Opposition and state health ministers.

The government said it planned to have these identifiers in use from mid-2010, in line with predictions earlier this year by NEHTA CEO Peter Fleming.

The draft legislation is open for public comment until Thursday, 7 January 2010.

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