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California HIE Comes Under Scrutiny from Consumer Watchdog Group

December 22, 2014
by Gabriel Perna
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A consumer watchdog group is cautioning consumers in California to steer clear of the upstart Cal INDEX, a health information exchange (HIE) being set up by two payers. 
Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, says California Integrated Data Exchange (Cal INDEX), which came to life in August with seed funding from Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross, is potentially putting protected health information (PHI) at risk. The watchdog advises consumers to opt-out of the HIE until the payers answer questions on its privacy policy. 
“If the exchange will do so much to benefit our health care, Cal INDEX should make that case and ask us to opt in,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director, said in a statement. “Instead, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are telling enrollees they can opt out during the busy holiday season when we are all distracted.  Worse, Cal INDEX fails to clearly explain its privacy protections and how it will operate. Consumers can’t make an informed decision based on what they’ve said so far.”
The advocacy group says that the payers should clarify to patients on data sharing practices, what kind of information will be included, which providers will be participating, and a series of other questions. The payers have sent messages to patients about the HIE and letting them know they can opt out. Simpson says that patients should do this until the payers answer those privacy questions. 

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