The federal government will introduce further amendments to the My Health Record system, caving to a number of the recommendations from the Labor-led Senate inquiry.
But the government will not extend or suspend the opt-out period for MHR, which ends before the legislative changes are passed and guaranteed.
Health minister Greg Hunt said on Wednesday that further amendments would be tacked onto the government’s legislation amending the My Health Record system, which is currently before the Senate.
The amendments would increase the penalties for misuses of a MHR, strengthen security to protect people against domestic violence and restrict access to employers and insurers.
They match several of the recommendations of the recent senate inquiry into MHR, but do not extend the opt-out period, as the committee had demanded.
The opt-out period should be extended until the legislation has passed or people “cannot give their informed consent to be part of the MHR program,” according to Digital Rights Watch board-member Justin Warren.
“That the government refuses to extend the opt-out period, or better yet pause the whole program for a systematic review, shows its utter contempt for the idea of informed consent,” Mr Warren told InnovationAus.com.
“Mr Hunt had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this point. That he only responds to force, or the wishes of powerful lobby groups, should concern any Australian whose private medical information might end up in this system,” he said.
“We need to see the details of the bill to be placed before Parliament to determine if the reality of what will be the law matches Mr Hunt’s rhetoric.
“People should opt-out immediately and wait until we see what the laws governing the My Health Record system will actually be before they trust this government with their most private information,” Mr Warren said.
Mr Hunt said the further amendments will create a “stronger My Health Record”.
“We have examined the recommendations from the senate inquiry, we have listened to concerns raised by a range of groups and My Health Record users,” he said.
“While these changes are in response to the senate inquiry calling for additional safeguards, neither the legislative nor the reference committee identified any actual cases of such concern despite six years of operation and six million users,” Mr Hunt said.
“Those that wish to delete their record after the November 15 opt-out date can do so at any time throughout their lives and their record will be deleted forever.”
A record being permanently deleted relies on the legislation being passed by the upper house.
Newly-elected crossbencher and former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps said the opt-out period should be suspended until the legislation is passed.
“The rollout of the My Health Record should by delayed until recommendations of the Senate inquiry are legislated to address security and privacy concerns,” Dr Phelps said.
The maximum criminal penalty for misusing a MHR will be increases from two years to five years in jail, while the maximum fine for an individuals will jump from $126,000 to $315,000, under the changes.
The amendments will also ensure that a person cannot access their child’s MHR if they have restricted access to the child or my pose a risk to the child or someone associated with them.
They will also prohibit an employer from requesting and using health information from an employee or potential employee’s MHR, and will restrict private health insurers from accessing information.
The government has rejected Labor’s recommendation that parents are unable to access the MHR of a child aged 14 to 17 years old by default, and will instead conduct an inquiry into the matter.
Shadow health minister Catherine King said the opposition will wait to properly examine the proposed amendments.
“After dragging his feet for months, Greg Hunt is finally doing something to clean up the My Health Record mess – adopting all of Labor’s proposals. We will study the details of these new changes to make sure they haven’t botched this too,” Ms King said.
The Labor-led inquiry included a number of other recommendations that have not been adopted by the government, primarily that the opt-out period should be extended for a further 12 months.
The inquiry also said that record access codes should be applied to a MHR by default and that the purpose of data-matching between government departments be limited to a person’s name, address, date of birth and contact information.