A doctor threatens the medical commission; Hospitals give Facebook data; 100 million in medical debt
Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative healthcare reporting each week.
Medical candidate threatens Minnesota medical board
According to a report from Associated Press.
Jensen, a family physician and former state senator, said in a video he posted to Twitter last week that the Minnesota Medical Board is a “massive and inexorable force” that has turned against him for political reasons. He added that “this juggernaut will be dealt with” if elected governor, previously noting his ability to appoint medical board members if elected.
Jensen is a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, the PA Previously reported. He encouraged civil disobedience over mask mandates and promoted ivermectin as a COVID treatment, even though there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that it is not effective. The doctor won GOP endorsement to run against incumbent Gov. Tim Walz (D) and slammed his opponent for his pandemic response.
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice did not respond to a request for comment, saying it does not comment on the investigations unless corrective action is needed. Jensen said the medical board opened — and dropped — four previous investigations into him, which he said were based on anonymous reports.
Hospitals send patient data to Facebook
Many hospitals use a tracking tool on their websites that collects sensitive health information from patients, including details about their medical history, prescriptions and doctor’s appointments – and then sends that data to Facebook , according to a survey co-published by STAT and markup.
Examination of a list of Newsweek’s top 100 american hospitals, markup found that 33 of these hospitals used a tool called Meta Pixel, which sent data to Facebook whenever a patient made a doctor’s appointment. Patient data is connected to their IP address, which can be linked to a person or a household. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) lists IP addresses as one of 18 identifiers that, when linked to a patient’s health data, can be considered protected health information.
Health systems that used Meta Pixel on their websites included University Hospitals of Cleveland Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, and others.
“I am deeply disturbed by this [the hospitals] are doing with capturing their data and sharing it,” said David Holtzman, a health privacy consultant who previously worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. The markup. “I can not tell [sharing this data] is definitely a violation of HIPAA. This is most likely a violation of HIPAA.”
Meta Pixel is a piece of code that tracks users as they browse a website. It is one of the most popular tracking tools on the Internet, present on about 30% of popular websites, according to the survey.
markup was unable to identify whether Facebook used the data to target ads, form algorithm recommendations, or otherwise profit. Additionally, the report noted that this analysis was only based on 100 hospitals across the country, indicating that data sharing likely affects many more patients and institutions than those identified.
100 million Americans are drowning in medical debt
According to a survey conducted by Kaiser Health News and NPR.
While previous reports have underestimated medical debt in the United States, this survey shows just how pervasive the problem is. Using a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the report describes not only the health care bills that patients cannot pay, but also other sources of borrowing used to cover the debt. To account for the true extent of medical costs, KHN and NPR reporters pored over hidden places where debt is piling up, including credit card balances, loans from family members, or payment plans to hospitals or providers.
More than half of adults in the United States have gone into debt because of medical or dental bills, according to the survey. A quarter of adults with health care debt owe more than $5,000 and almost 20% say they never expect to pay their debts.
Medical debt hits cancer or chronic disease patients the hardest, with debt levels in counties with the highest disease rate totaling up to three to four times the amount in healthier counties, notes the report. Health care costs also fall disproportionately on people from minority ethnic groups, deepening racial disparities.
The problem is driving millions into bankruptcy, depleting retirement savings and tarnishing credit reports, making it difficult for people to find jobs or housing, the report notes.
While the US government has recognized the burden of medical debt on Americans, few federal protections have been put in place, leaving states to introduce their own initiatives. North Carolina, for example, could pass a bill to “disarm” medical debt, requiring hospitals to offer financial assistance to patients based on their income and restricting the means by which health systems and agents collection can pursue unpaid invoices.