The Des Moines Register recently reported that Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield has been accused of violating federal HIPAA privacy regulations in the case of a patient with severe hemophilia. (See link to Register article below.) As reported, a representative of Wellmark was discussing the high cost of health insurance at a Rotary Club meeting last March. She gave an example of an extreme case that was costing $1 million per month. (ACA – Obamacare – prohibits insurance companies from placing any limit on the amount it will pay for patients.) She did not identify the patient by name, but described him as a 17 year old male with hemophilia. Maybe she should not have mentioned the age or sex of the patient, but that information alone did not identify who the specific patient was, and should not be considered a violation of federal privacy regulations.
Wellmark and other insurance companies must be able to cite specific high cost cases that are causing health insurance premiums to rise to unaffordable amounts. How can we openly debate ways to contain health care costs if we don’t know what is causing the high costs? Can we really afford to require insurance companies to pay out unlimited amounts for any patient? I recently heard that the last remaining company to offer individual health insurance policies in Iowa may charge more than $30,000 per year next year for a couple who are 55 years old. Health care wants are unlimited. Our ability to pay is not. We need to debate whether or not government should prohibit health insurance policies from having limits on how much they pay out for individual patients.
The has been a lot of news lately about the “Panama Papers” – the leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm that show how rich people from around the world hide their wealth. There has been an outcry from politicians world-wide that there should be no place available for people to hide their assets.
On the one hand, I agree that government officials who steal from their own countries, and private individuals who use violence or fraud to wrongly take from others need to be found out and punished.
On the other hand, honest people should not have to reveal all of their assets to government. I don’t have an answer, but making you a criminal because you want to keep your wealth private seems wrong.
After witnessing the deluge of outside political advertising that inundated Iowa during this latest election cycle, it’s easy to conclude that our government should place limits on political contributions and political advertising. But our Supreme Court correctly decided in the Citizens United case that governments should not be allowed to limit the independent political expenditures of groups of people, even if they are organized as corporations.
Most of the corporations that make independent expenditures for or against candidates or ballot issues are simply groups of like minded people who have come together to promote their common beliefs. They are not profit-making corporations that run businesses and sell stock on Wall Street. Citizens United is a group of people who are organized as a corporation explicitly for the purpose of promoting a political agenda.
If contributions are given directly to a candidate, there is good reason for concern about bribery and corruption. But as long as people or groups are independent of candidates and their campaigns, they should be free to spend as much of their own money as they want, and they should not have to disclose the names of contributors. Our founding fathers published pamphlets and other communications anonymously when they advocated against their rulers and called for a revolution. They were very much thinking about political speech when they wrote in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”
Should there be some limit to government spying on we citizens? Remember, we the people created our government to protect our lives, our liberty, and our property. We granted only limited powers to our government. We retained for ourselves and the States all powers not specifically granted to the federal government in the Constitution. We believe that people are innocent unless proven guilty and that there needs to be some “probable cause” before our government is allowed to search our property or intrude into our private lives. A key question is: Should private data that is held by third parties be subject to search without any probable cause? Specifically, should our government be able to “scoop up” data related to our phone calls, internet activity, or banking activity without a specific warrant based on probable cause. Today, the answer appears to be yes, our government can do that to us. I think the answer should be no. I understand that if the answer is no, that it will be more difficult for our government to protect us from terrorists. The price of freedom and liberty is not free. Along with our freedom, including privacy, comes risks: risks from which our government may not be able to protect us. At the same time, the history of humankind is littered with oppression of people by their governments. That is why our founding fathers intentionally made it difficult for our government to expand its powers.
Dilbert, the comic in the Register, recently revealed a great tip for computer users: If you lose your data for any reason, and you don’t have your own backup or if your backup fails, then you can appeal to the N.S.A. to get a copy of the “backup” of your data that our government keeps.