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Nebraska’s Health Data Initiative: A Step Towards National Digital Identification?

When your medical records become the highlight of a statewide data gathering event, you can be sure that you’ve reached the pinnacle of the digital era. Nebraska’s recent actions have caused quite a stir, with people speculating whether it is a mere innocent assembly of healthcare information or a secret endeavor to introduce digital identification. Let’s delve into the intrigue that lies within those medical documents.

Experts have expressed significant consern regarding Nebraska’s recent effort to collect digital health information from its residents. These concerns primarily revolve around the proposed adoption of digital identification. This initiative, part of the Health Information Technology (HIT) Board’s agenda, also includes the consolidation of patient medical and health 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.

Legislative Bill 411, passed in 2021, required all health facilities in the state to participate in the CyncHealth statewide information exchange. Almost all health facilities followed this requirement, except in situations where they were unable to connect to the system due to limited resources. In such cases, waivers were granted to accommodate these 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.

However, the CyncHealth website offered a separate form that allowed individuals to choose not to participate in the state health data exchange.

Governor-appointed members, including healthercare 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.

Although supporters emphasize the possible advantages, skeptics such as Stacey Skold, a member of the Nebraska Chapter of the Children’s Health Defense Board, voice worries regarding the speed at which health data is being collected, fearing a shift towards a digital identification system and a 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.

Greg Glaser, an expert in digital privacy, expressed concern over the rapid digitalization of health information. He suggested that digital identification could potentially give private companies, rather than governments, an unprecedented amount of control over individuals. Glaser highlighted the significant influence held by companies such as Accenture, Microsoft, and Oracle, who own the technology and have control over 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.

In the meantime, Skold and other individuals are supporting the idea of taking legal measures in Nebraska to stop the consolidation of medical records. They believe that Nebraska can serve as a testing ground, and if they succeed there, it could establish a standard for other places as well.

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