IRS Requirement in Health Care Bill Raises Privacy Concerns

Published October 8, 2009

Provisions in the proposed national health care overhaul bill that some observers say undermine privacy protections for citizens are raising concerns.

The most recent version of HR 3200 under consideration by Congress would create the post of Health Services Commissioner, who would have access to the personal information of health insurance applicants.

Also in the current draft of the bill, the Internal Revenue Service is directed to divulge taxpayer identification and other personal data, including the number of dependents, modified adjusted income, and filing status of applicants.

Supporters of the measure say the information is necessary to evaluate eligibility for government-subsidized health insurance, but opponents say it will allow government to pry into individuals’ privacy.

“Despite the fact that there is no official health care reform bill to look at, the current proposal to share private taxpayer information with the proposed Health Choices Administration should trouble every American,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care in St. Paul, Minnesota. “The day any government agency outside the IRS has access to the financial and insurance status of every American citizen is the day when every American citizen becomes a government target for higher taxes and individualized penalties.”

Slippery Slope Concerns

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says inclusion of the tax collection agency is meant to intimidate.

“The reality is that the [health care] legislation relies on government coercion to accomplish its goals,” Gessing said. “No government agency is more coercive or feared than the IRS. Given the need for both coercion and trillions of additional tax dollars to fund reform efforts, it is no surprise the legislation would expand the power of the IRS to snoop on average Americans in order to make sure that they are complying with this raft of regulations, mandates, and demands on their resources.”

Brase also is concerned an originally limited requirement to share citizens’ personal information could expand to include more government agencies gaining access. She says constitutionality concerns compound the problems.

“To suggest that citizen financial data be made available to even one government agency outside of the IRS is to plan for it to be made available in the future to every government agency outside the IRS,” said Brase. “This would be patently unconstitutional. Personal privacy is an essential ingredient of freedom, as the Fourth Amendment makes clear.

“If this provision becomes law, I expect every federal official who deems it their right to know will eventually be given access to detailed financial data on all Americans,” Brase concluded.

Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.

For more information …

U.S. HR 3200: