Key players at the hearing argued that the proposal would create costs and hurdles for improving care for future patients.
Thomas said the whole topic was a "perplexing policy challenge," a view echoed across the aisle. While there may be two sides to a story, "There are about nine sides to this issue," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.
Major physician groups charged today that the rules do not adequately protect the privacy rights of individuals over their own health information, even as they increase the administrative burden on physicians.
But from the perspective of health plans, hospitals, and drug companies, the rules make it too hard to access patient information. "[The] regulations would have a detrimental effect on the quality and safety of patient care," says Mary Grealy, Healthcare Leadership Council president, claiming that research efforts would be chilled.
Overall, the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association said it believed that the requirements in the proposal would increase health costs by $40 billion over five years. McDermott chided the company for what he said was an inflated estimate, but Thomas professed concern over these numbers.
The administration said the costs would far lower, in a range from $1.8 to $6.3 billion.
Underlying the sensitive nature of public policy on privacy, even the comment process itself for the rules came under fire. With individuals required to use a PIN number to comment on the proposal via the Internet, "American citizens who want to complain about government invasion of their constitutional right to privacy must subject themselves to the ultimate violation of privacy," said Jane Orient, MD, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.