AUGUSTA – Rep. Patty Hymanson faced stiff opposition Tuesday to her proposal to create a law that would collect the prescription drug history of all Maine people and track it in a central, state-authorized database. That data would then be made available statewide to health care providers and pharmacies through an online system.
previously reported, L.D. 2117 would convert Maine’s existing controlled
substance monitoring system into a statewide database that recorded all
prescription drug history for all Maine people. Some opponents of the bill
showed up for the hearing and submitted testimony online, showing overwhelming
opposition to the bill.
Tuesday evening at 8:30, all 80 pieces of public testimony from Maine people
posted on the committee website for L.D. 2117 were in opposition to the bill.
Most of the
public testimony is directed at patient privacy, but some added other thoughts,
such as concerns about how the government will use the information in the
future. Some even questioned the bill’s constitutionality.
“LD 2117, which enables massive government surveillance of Maine citizens and the tracking of individuals’ personal medical information on a scale not seen before, represents an unprecedented and unwarranted invasion of the privacy of Maine citizens,” testified Laura O’Hanlan, a highly-regarded attorney from Topsham. O’Hanlan submitted testimony in her personal capacity, not on behalf of any organization or client.
“It also intrudes impermissibly on the
sanctity of the confidential physician-patient relationship,” continues
O’Hanlan’s testimony. “This bill vastly expands the amount of very sensitive
health information collected by the State, then it authorizes the disclosure of
this information to others (within and outside the state) without the need for
specific justifications or any meaningful restrictions on use, and without any
safeguards to protect the information from unwarranted access or loss.”
“Without establishing a substantial
state interest or compelling justification for the invocation of broad police
powers, and the implementation of effective safeguards, LD 2117 is simply an
unconstitutional invasion of privacy under the United States and Maine
Constitutions,” testified O’Hanlan.
“The 4th Amendment to the US Constitution
protects our right to be “secure in our papers”. If prescriptions
given by a doctor are not our ‘papers’, then nothing is…not our emails, not
our internet history – EVEN though they have been ruled as protected by the
Supreme Court. This is a terrible slippery slope we’re currently on – please do
not add to this erosion of liberty with this legislation,” said Parker in
Other opposition was in concern to situations where the database could be hacked, or as has happened in New York, the prescription drug history of law-abiding citizens being used as a foundation for the taking of other rights. In New York, prescription drug data became a source of information used by the government to suspend permits for gun ownership.
Still more of the opposition from the public came from concerns about the ability of hackers to someday access the database.
At one point in the public hearing, an
opponent of the bill asked the members of the Legislature’s Health and Human
Services Committee to share with everyone in the room the list of prescription
drugs they are currently taking.
No member of the Health and Human
Services Committee was willing to divulge that info.
Rep. Hymanson told the committee that
a “future amendment” will provide an opt-out to the program, but that was not
made available to the public at the time of publication.
Some medical groups did appear before
the committee to support Hymanson’s proposal, but a number of doctors and
medical professionals also provided testimony in opposition.
However, even Rep. Hymanson
acknowledged that her bill was raising concerns among Mainers about patient
privacy, acknowledging that the committee was hearing from Mainers concerned
about their personal medical privacy.
directs all dispensers,
for example, all
pharmacies, to report
controlled substances such
as opiates and
benzodiazepines like Valium,
existing Prescription Monitoring
Program (PMP), but
medications,” said Hymanson.
Hymanson also said in her testimony
that the managers of Maine’s current system say an opt-out can be created in
the system. That option is not currently included in the text of L.D. 2117.
While saying that she is not seeking to
violate patient privacy, Hymanson did say that if Mainers are concerned about
privacy they may hesitate to seek out, or possibly delay receiving treatment.
Despite having the backing of Governor
Janet Mills’ DHHS on the controversial bill, Hymanson acknowledged the strong
opposition, telling the Health and Human Services Committee, “I spoke with a
physician from Nebraska
where they have
expanded their PMP
and he informed
my testimony. As
a result of
my research into
this bill, I
believe my concerns
have been somewhat
alleviated. However, I
will be listening
closely to this
public hearing for
L.D. 2117 remains in committee awaiting a work session before it will be voted on by the Maine House and Senate.