Is Nebraska’s Health Data Initiative a Gateway to National Digital IDs?


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You know you’ve hit peak digital age when your health records become the star of a statewide data collection party. Nebraska’s latest move has got tongues wagging faster than a doctor’s pen during a diagnosis. But is this just a harmless gathering of medical info or a covert operation to usher in the era of digital IDs? Let’s dive into the drama lurking behind those medical files.

Nebraska’s recent initiative to gather digital health data from residents has faced considerable backlash from experts concerned about the proposed implementation of digital IDs. Part of the state’s Health Information Technology (HIT) Board’s agenda, this move also involves consolidating patient health and medical records.

However, numerous critics have voiced strong reservations, labeling it a “significant breach of privacy.” Their apprehensions extend to the possibility of moving toward a national digital ID system.

The establishment of the Health Information Technology (HIT) Board was backed unanimously by the Nebraska legislature in 2020 through Legislative Bill 1183, also known as the “Population Health Information Act.” This paved the way for the formation of the HIT Board and designated the Nebraska Health Information Initiative as the state’s health exchange.

In 2021, Legislative Bill 411 mandated universal participation in the CyncHealth statewide information exchange. Nearly all health facilities complied, except for cases where facilities lacked the resources to connect to the system, receiving waivers due to technological limitations.

The Nebraska Health Information Initiative rebranded as CyncHealth in 2021, a move purportedly aimed at positioning the organization as the health data utility for the Midwest, providing crucial information services for healthcare continuity.

Despite this, the CyncHealth site provided an individual opt-out form for the state health data exchange.

Governor-appointed members, including healthcare stakeholders ranging from doctors to administrators, constituted the HIT Board, leveraging their clinical expertise to oversee health data management.

CyncHealth, selected as the regional health data utility, oversees the collection of medical data, maintaining records for over five million patients across more than 1,100 healthcare institutions in the Midwest. Their objective extends beyond uniting records; they aim to make these records readily accessible to patients and their healthcare providers.

While proponents highlight the potential benefits, critics like Stacey Skold, a board member of the Children’s Health Defense Nebraska Chapter, express concerns about the rapidity of health data aggregation, fearing a move towards a digital ID and central bank digital currency (CBDC).

The Nebraska government’s decision to establish a statewide information exchange through CYncHealth, coupled with data harvesting, raised alarm among privacy advocates. During HIT Board meetings, affiliations between partner company CyncHealth, the CARIN Alliance advocating for digital ID, and major corporations like Google and Microsoft added to these concerns.

Digital privacy expert Greg Glaser warned about the accelerated digitization of health data, suggesting that digital IDs could grant an unprecedented level of control over individuals to private companies rather than governments. He emphasized the pivotal role of companies like Accenture, Microsoft, and Oracle in owning the technology and managing the data.

This trend isn’t confined to the U.S.; Glaser pointed out tentative agreements within the European Union for a new framework for a European digital ID wallet.

Independent journalist James Roguski highlighted a potential conflict between Nebraska’s actions and its constitutional authority, urging residents to consider exercising their power of referendum to reject legislative acts, citing the Nebraska State Constitution.

Meanwhile, Skold and others advocate legal action in Nebraska to halt the centralization of healthcare records, viewing Nebraska as a test state where success could set a precedent elsewhere.

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