Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have sent a letter to Internal Revenue Service acting chief Daniel Werfel requesting information about a March 2011 IRS search and seizure of as many as 60 million medical records from a California health care provider.
The letter comes after a recent lawsuit was filed over the IRS's alleged seizure of over 10 million American patients’ medical information in the course of executing a warrant related to a former employee’s financial records. As the IRS will be tasked with implementing much of President Obama’s signature health care reform law, committee leaders said they are concerned about what restrictions and safeguards are in place to ensure that Americans’ medical information remains protected.
The letter to Werfel was signed by House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., Oversight and Investigations and Health Subcommittees vice chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D., R-Texas, committee chairman emeritus Joe Barton, R-Texas, and committee vice chairman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. They wrote, “(T)he Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in the course of executing a search warrant at a California health care provider’s corporate headquarters in March 2011, improperly seized the personal medical records of millions of American citizens in possible violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The letter continued, “According to a March 14, 2013, report by courthousenews.com, the unnamed health care provider is now suing the IRS and 15 unnamed agents in California Superior Court alleging that the agents stole more than 60 million medical records from more than 10 million American patients during a search conducted March 11, 2011. The warrant authorizing that search was apparently limited to the financial records of a former employee of the company and in no way authorized the sweeping confiscation of the personal medical records of millions of Americans who had no connection to the initial IRS investigation. … In light of these allegations and in anticipation of the IRS’s increased role in implementing health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we are writing to request information regarding your agency’s ability to both protect the confidential medical information of millions of Americans and respect the safeguards imposed by HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act].”
The lawsuit cites a Forbes article in alleging that the medical records included “information on psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual and drug treatment, and other sensitive medical treatment data.”
The committee leaders asked Werfel to respond to the letter by Tuesday, June 25.