​Opt-out period for My Health Record officially extended until November 15

Individuals will have an extra month to opt out of the digital health record in a move that buys the government more time to fix the related legislation.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
Image: Screenshot by Asha Barbaschow/ZDNet

Individuals wishing to opt out of the federal government's My Health Record will have an extra month to do so, with the period for cancelling the digital medical file extended until November 15, 2018.

Originally, the opt-out period was from July 16 through October 15, 2018.

On the first day of the opt-out window, 20,000 people chose not have a digital health record.

According to a statement from Minister for Health Greg Hunt, extending the opt-out period follows a request from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

He also said delaying the opt-out period gives Australians "more time to consider their options as we strengthen the 2012 My Health Record legislation".

"The government will amend the 2012 legislation to ensure if someone wishes to cancel their record they will be able to do so permanently, with their record deleted from the system forever," Hunt explained.

Although the federal government is automatically signing people up to a My Health Record, and individuals were given the ability to opt out of the service, the information contained within was not going to be destroyed; rather, it was to be kept in somewhat of a limbo until 30 years after an individual's death. In the case of an unknown death, the cancelled record would be kept for a period of 130 years after the date of the person's birth.

According to Hunt, any Australian will be able to opt out of the system permanently at any time in the future, with their record deleted for good.

Despite saying for weeks that policy will trump the legislation backing My Health Record, Hunt announced in late July that the legislation will be brought into line with the policy of the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA).

He reaffirmed on Friday that the legislation will be strengthened to match ADHA policy, which requires a court order to release any My Health Record information without consent.

"The amendment will ensure no record can be released to police or government agencies, for any purpose, without a court order," the minister continued on Friday.

"The Australian Digital Health Agency's policy is clear and categorical -- no documents have been released in more than six years, and no documents will be released without a court order. This will be enshrined in legislation.

"As the Australian Digital Health Agency has already stated, contrary to incorrect claims made by unions this week, under the Healthcare Identifiers Act 2010, specifically subsection 14(2), healthcare providers cannot be authorised to collect, use, or disclose a healthcare identifier, and as a consequence access a patient's My Health Record, for employment and insurance purposes."

Also see: Private health providers called out in quarterly Australian data breach report

The federal government has been in damage control since the opt-out window opened.

The opposition took the opportunity to call on the Coalition to extend the opt-out timeframe, citing of all things a lack of education of the public on the opt-out digital health system.

Hunt's statement continues by explaining that under the Act, it is "expressly prohibited", and that using or disclosing a healthcare identifier without authority is an offence and subject to severe penalties, including two years' jail time and a fine of AU$126,000.

Despite promises from both Hunt and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, there is still serious concern over the security and integrity of My Health Record, in particular who has access to the medical information of Australians.


My Health Record: Canberra is still missing the point

No, Minister. It's not just about law enforcement access to digital health records. The Australian government needs to address all the concerns. A media circus in a playground won't help.

My Health Record legislation to match ADHA policy in government backdown

Medical records to be released only with a court order, and a promise of permanent deletion upon record cancellation, were announced on Tuesday night.

Tens of thousands opt out of My Health Record, but can Immigration and local councils view the rest?

The ADHA says it'll refuse access to medical records without a court order or warrant. But the law allows that policy to change at any time.

Cancelled My Health Record data to be kept in limbo

Those choosing to opt-out of the My Health Record service will still have their data visible if they reactivate their account.

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