Opt-out to pass before MHR change

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The federal government’s series of amendments to improve the security and privacy of the My Health Record system are now unlikely to be passed before the opt-out period ends.

The amendments, announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt following sustained criticism of My Health Record (MHR), require that law enforcement agencies obtain a warrant before they are able to access data stored on the system, and allow users to permanently delete their record at any time.

The amendments were introduced to the lower house in August, with the support of the Opposition. But the legislation was not debated in the upper house last week. The Senate does not sit again until 12 November, just three days before the MHR opt-out period comes to an end.

With a number of further amendments to be moved by the Greens and Opposition, it is now unlikely that they will be passed before the opt-out period concludes.

This led to Greens leader Richard Di Natale and Labor senator Murray Watt to move a motion in the Senate late last week to “express disappointment that the federal government has chosen not to follow through on their commitment to the Australian people to strengthen the legislation which governs the My Health Record, meaning that any choices that the Australian people make about opting out will not be sufficiently informed”.

The motion also called on the government to extend the opt-out period until the legislation is passed and “outstanding privacy and security concerns are addressed and public confidence in this important reform is restored”.

The delays in passing the MHR amendments have also been criticised by shadow health minister Catherine King.

“The Liberals failed to bring their My Health Record changes on for debate this week, in a clear signal they’ve realised their amendments are woefully inadequate,” Ms King said.

“This delay until the November sittings – days before the opt-out period is due to end – means the government cannot keep to its current timetable. The My Health Record must not proceed until public confidence in this reform is restored,” she said.

Labor has pledged to include its own series of amendments of MHR, including to prevent insurers and employers from accessing the information, and to protect domestic violence survivors.

The Greens have also included two amendments to the legislation.

The opt-out period ends in mid-November after it was extended for a month by the federal government following widespread criticism of the privacy and security protections in place for an individual’s sensitive medical information.

The government’s amendments were branded as “woefully inadequate” by a Labor-led senate committee report on the entire My Health Record system, which identified a number of “serious flaws” that have not been addressed.

A Labor-led senate committee report released late last week recommended that the opt-out period be extended for another 12 months, something which has already been rejected by the government.

The report also recommended that record access codes be applied to all MHR by default, that the legislation be amended to protect the privacy of children aged 14 to 17 years old, data not be made available for secondary use without an individual’s’ consent, and for additional funding to be allocated for a media and educational campaign.

“Many people are supportive of the move to the digital health record, but we have to get it right, and that’s what we note in the report,” the report said.

“The committee has listened to the voices of Australians about My Health record, and we encourage the government to do the same and respond to these recommendations,” it said.

“They’re put forward by the committee in the spirit of trying to make sure that we make this system as effective and useful as possible for individuals and the provision of healthcare in our community.”

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