Farrah Fawcett watched her personal, moving and life affirming story on ABC-TV. Millions applauded her for her valiant fight against cancer and her inspirational message to fight on to many others who wage their own private medical battle against the dread disease. Lawanda Jackson was not one of them who applauded Fawcett. The former UCLA Medical Center administrative assistant didn't see Farrah's Story. And while millions applauded Fawcett, Jackson has been vilified.
She drew public and legal wrath for leaking Fawcett's medical records in 2006 and 2007 in an alleged scam deal with the National Enquirer. The leak stirred howls and demands for a government crackdown on UCLA Medical and other medical facilities that leak medical records. Jackson died of breast cancer in March and didn't serve a day of her federal sentence. Despite the pain Jackson's thievery caused, a gracious Fawcett forgave her. Fawcett accurately called her a pawn in the system.
Jackson's thievery was just that and it gave another ugly look at the big and at times profitable racket of medical snooping and theft. It's a racket that's driven by a mix of celebrity and personal gossip, maliciousness, voyeurism and greed. The medical theft racket poses an increasingly serious public peril.
Thanks to Jackson's legal bust, Fawcett's victimization is well known, and so is that of other celebrity victims such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and George Clooney. But thousands of others who are not celebrity name patients not treated at a celebrity catered treatment center such as UCLA Medical Center have also been victimized; and most of them don't know it.
In March, Dartmouth College researchers conducted a two week landmark study in which they found that the social security numbers, insurance records, and diagnosis information on hundreds of patients at various hospitals and medical facilities were in full display online. Many of the patients were treated for AIDS, cancer, and mental illnesses. While thousands more were afflicted with various other diseases. It also found a document nearly 2000 pages in length that contained the Social Security numbers, date of birth, insurance information and treatment codes for approximately 9,000 patients.
Some of the patient's information was leaked. Information on others was obtained through sharing files that were either intentionally or accidentally downloaded. In addition, the Government Accountability Office estimates that nearly 10 percent of Medicare claims are filed by identity thieves and fraudulent health-care providers.
Thousands of other patient medical records have been leaked, or openly publicized through medical ID theft. A high profile athlete, entertainer, political figure admitted to a hospital for treatment and care, is instantly known. Hospital administrators and staff generally take greater care to protect their records. Though as the Fawcett, and other celebrity's medical records breach showed, that's hardly foolproof. However, with ordinary patients the same pains may not be taken to guarantee that their privacy is protected. According to ID Theft Security.com, many hospitals are grossly lax when it comes to confirming the identity of patients. The laxity in identity checks opens the gate wide for thieves, snoopers, and sloppy or indifferent medical staff persons to peak at, sell, or botch medical records.
A much touted provision in President Obama's stimulus bill is aimed at better securing the privacy of patient medical records. It included a federal notification requirement for health-related records breaches. It mandated that all health care providers and administrators must notify patients in writing if their medical information is compromised and report the breach to the Health and Human Services Department. Health providers and third-party agencies or companies that handle medical records for health-care providers must submit an annual report to Congress on any medical patient breaches and tell whose records were breached.
There are two self-defeating flaws in this timely and much needed safeguard. One is that the health care provider or company that collects patient records and information must know about the breach. The Dartmouth study showed that much of the medical record theft and leakage slips way under the radar of hospitals and health providers. The other flaw is compliance with the provision even enforcement rests on the inherent assumption that hospital administrators and agencies keep accurate, up-to-date and honest records of all patient medical data.
Jackson's gross medical record invasion of Fawcett stirred rage and indignation that a popular and admired celebrity could be doubly victimized by a dread disease and by a snooping, prying medical worker. Unfortunately, untold thousands of others suffer the same fate. And their story is not known.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report" can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on blogtalkradio.com