Health Care Policy Group Warns New Law May Allow Breach of Medical Confidentiality


Citizens for Choice in Health Care (CCHC), a Minnesota health care policy organization, has recently discovered that a portion of the K-12 Education bill, which violated federal law (42 U.S.C.Sec. 405) by requiring the collection of student social security numbers, was not completely dropped from the 1998 bill.
Loss of Privacy in the Schools . . .
Although the bill, now law, no longer mandates collection of social security numbers, it authorizes the Department of Children, Families, and Learning to seek a federal waiver&emdash;permission from the IRS to bypass federal law&emdash;to "obtain access to federal income tax information"(Chpt. No. 398, Art.6) on families though social security numbers. Twila Brase, R.N., President of CCHC, says, "If the waiver is granted, parents may be required to supply their social security number or the social security numbers of their children to schools. The schools would then send the social security numbers to the Minnesota Department of Revenue which would link them to the income status of parents."
According to Brase, schools want access to social security numbers because the federal funding formula for schools has changed. Until recently, schools received federal funds for at-risk programs on the basis of how many children in each school were enrolled in AFDC. Now schools receive funds according to the number of children eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. Because some families, unwilling to be identified as poor, do not sign up, federal funding to schools has decreased. Access to social security numbers would allow schools to receive federal funding according to aggregate categorization of students &emdash;perhaps against the wishes of parents.
May Lead to Loss of Medical Privacy
Citizens for Choice in Health Care has spent four years at the Capitol dealing with health care, and medical confidentiality issues and is concerned that the collection of social security numbers on children will lead to unwarranted linkages with medical records, most of which now are stored under social security numbers. In addition, the new federal KidCare program requires State officials to identify and enroll all children eligible according to income guidelines. As health plans form public-private partnerships with schools, CCHC is concerned that state officials could use social security numbers to facilitate unwelcome identification of children and families.
Rep. Alice Seagren (R-Bloomington) who sat in the K-12 conference committee, says "Parents don't realize how they're being used. If they won't volunteer that they are poor, we decide to get their social security numbers to find out if they are. It's not acceptable to the government that some people don't want to volunteer that information. We sacrifice privacy on the alter of always trying to get more money."
Brase says the Department of Children, Families and Learning will work with the Minnesota Department of Revenue over the summer on necessary requirements of the waiver application process.
Spring 1998
Citizens for Choice in Health Care
Published with permission

1999 UPDATE: On November 9, 1998, the Minnesota Division of Information Technologies received a letter from the IRS saying in part,

"Unfortunately, there are no provisions in the Code that authorize the IRS to disclose return information to States for the purpose of determining the family income status of children enrolled in public schools. Therefore, there is no authority for IRS to disclose such data to you directly without the taxpayer's consent."