BNHI urged to defer launch of health cards

Amber Wang,The China Post

Advocates for the rights of AIDS patients, psychiatric patients, and sex workers yesterday urged the Bureau of National Health Insurance (BNHI) to defer its scheduled launch of health insurance cards with integrated circuit (IC) to July, citing invasion of privacy on sensitive medical information. The issue of protecting patients’ privacy was raised yesterday at a public hearing organized by legislator Kao Min-jiang.

Participating activists, scholars, and lawmakers cautioned the BNHI not to hastily implement IC cards until the privacy issue is resolved. Stressing that the working rights of people with HIV/AIDS would be jeopardized once employers gain access to their medical records, Hansen Wu, chairman of Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association of Taiwan, said, “The public should have the right to say ‘no’ with regard to disclosing information about certain type of illnesses.” “It is already extremely difficult for psychiatric patients to survive in society due to the public’s misconceptions about mental illnesses. Many people do not think that mental illness can be treated or cured,” noted David Cheng, secretary-general of Taipei Mental Rehabilitation Association.

“I am afraid that a psychiatric patient would be discriminated against in the workplace once his or her medical record is made available via IC cards. This practice would be unfair and hurtful- even for a cured patient,” Cheng said.

Echoing the view of Wu and Cheng, an unnamed advocate from the Collective of Sex Workers & Supporters charged that implementing IC health insurance cards would only help “strengthen the bias in mainstream society against the minority groups,” instead of assisting patients or saving medical resources as the BNHI has claimed. Lawmaker Pang Chien-kuo also urged the government to respect individual privacy and cautioned that personal medical records should not be made available for insurance companies to take advantage of these patients.

Doctors face risks of malpractice should some medical conditions not be disclosed to them prior to diagnosis, BNHI Vice President & CIO, Chiang Horn-che said, adding that the DOH’s medical ethics committee determines to what extent the patients’personal information and medical histories are made available.

According to BNHI, the computer chip-equipped cards will be more convenient for card holders than the current paper cards, which have to be replaced after six hospital visits. In response to security concerns about medical data surrounding the new health cards, the maker of the IC cards, Teco Electric & Machinery Co., noted that information stored in the computer chip will be automatically destroyed with an unauthorized access to a card. Besides, an IC card reader is protected by a set of pin codes with 128 numbers, which are nearly impossible to be breached.