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Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc.
A Voice for Private Physicians Since 1943
Omnia pro aegroto

March 18, 1999

For Immediate Release:


HR 354 Protects AMA Monopoly, Allows Companies to Sell Patient Information

Washington -- Legislation billed as "anti-piracy" protection and pushed by the AMA would actually set the stage for selling access to patient medical records stored on electronic databases by companies such as HMOs. Further, it would permit the AMA to regain a stranglehold on its multi-million dollar monopoly over the selling of information which federal law requires doctors to use.

"Congress should reject HR 354 as a special interest bill that would be detrimental to the publicís access to quality medical care," writes Dr. Jane Orient, Executive Director, in a statement presented to the Judiciary Committeeís Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property at hearings on HR 354, the "Collections of Information Antipiracy Act."

The bill would allow non-profits and companies to restrict access to electronic databases. Thatís the antipiracy section. But the problem comes in the rest of the bill. It doesnít protect the right to use information in those databases for patient care. As the medical data market grows by a billion dollars per year, his could lead to a number of harmful scenarios.

"Certain special interests would like to claim exclusive rights to this valuable data. They would like to sell it at enormous profits, and exclude their competitors from accessing this data. Unfortunately, the AMA is one of those special interests. HMOs are another special interest which could claim exclusive use of a patientís medical information. They could restrict a patientís ability to see physicians who donít contract with the HMO by refusing to provide the medical record," said Dr. Orient.

"We believe the AMA is pushing this bill because it would allow it to once again charge high royalties, amounting to millions of dollars every year, for the coding database that physicians are forced by law to use. The AMA thereby adds unnecessary costs to physicians and patients, who bear the costs," said Dr. Orient. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled in August 1997 that the AMA had no legal right to exclusive publishing of that database. "Lo and behold, two months later this bill was introduced, and six months later the AMA was providing key testimony in its support," writes Dr. Orient.

More than 100 organizations, such as Columbia University, AT&T, American Association for the Advancement of Science and many universities and libraries have joined AAPS in opposing this bill, sending a joint letter to Congress voicing their position. The letter calls on Congress to "punish database pirates without jeopardizing the thriving commerce in information long at the core of Americaís economic, scientific and intellectual life."

The bill carefully excludes many types of data from its scope, from telephone directories to stock quotes, but not medical data. "If Congress wonít stand up the AMA and other special interests to kill this bill, it should at least protect our patients and add an exclusion for medical records," said Dr. Orient.

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