On Tuesday, June 11, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel requesting information regarding how the IRS handles confidential medical information. The letter comes after a recent lawsuit alleging that the IRS illegally seized over 60 million medical records in 2011.
The lawsuit, a class action filed by an unnamed health care provider against 15 unnamed IRS agents, alleges that the agents improperly seized the medical records in violation of the Fourth Amendment during a search executed on March 11, 2011. According to the complaint, the agents seized more than ten million medical records despite knowing that the records were not within the scope of their warrant, (which authorized only the seizure of financial records related to a former employee). The seized records allegedly contained "intimate and private information . . . including psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, [and] sexual or drug treatment." The complaint further alleges that the agents threated to "rip out" the servers containing the medical data if the company's IT personnel did not voluntarily transfer the information to the IRS.
In its letter, the Committee expressed concern for safeguarding the privacy of medical information and asked for written responses to the following requests:
The House noted its particular concern with the IRS's handling of private medical records in light of its role in implementing many provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The letter points out that although HIPAA restricts the ability of covered entities to release protected health information, it contains no restrictions on the IRS's use of such information after it is seized.
While there is no word yet from the IRS, committee leaders asked Werfel to respond by June 21, 2013.