As if President Barack Obama’s healthcare proposals were not flawed enough, CBS News reports a previously unnoticed provision of the bill that makes shambles of any privacy surrounding your federal tax returns. Under the House bill, the IRS is required to make available, to the new government “health choices commissioner” established by the legislation and to each state health program, all of your personal tax information.
In a blog, CBS News’ Declan McCullagh reports that “Section 431(a) of the bill says that the IRS must divulge taxpayer identity information, including the filing status, the modified adjusted grow income, the number of dependents, and ‘other information as is prescribed by’ regulation’ to the “new Health Choices Commissioner and state health programs.”
And, McCullagh also reports that, under Section 1801(a) “the Social Security Administration can obtain tax return data on anyone who may be eligible for a ‘low-income prescription drug subsidy’ but has not applied for it.”
So the health choices commissioner and anyone in his office, the 50 state health programs and their staffs, and the vast Social Security administration will all now have access to your personal tax information.
It might as well be published in the newspapers.
The rationale for providing this confidential tax information to all these people is not only to check on the eligibility of those who are seeking federal subsidy — a possibly appropriate use of it — but, also, to those who have not applied but might be eligible. This later provision essentially authorizes the Social Security administration to seek and obtain anyone’s income tax information under the guise of determining if they should have applied for a subsidy.
In his blog, McCullagh quotes Tom Giovanetti of the Institute for Policy Innovation as saying “How many thousands of federal employees will have access to your record? The privacy of your health records will be only as good as the most nosy, most dishonest, and most malcontented federal employee.” And not just your health records, your financial records too.
This legislation requiring an agency-to-agency transfer of confidential tax information runs against the general policy of the Privacy Act, which prohibits such a paper flow. Generally, information has to come from the individual involved and cannot simply be passed from one government bureau to another. The IRS takes particular pains to keep tax returns confidential and leaks are rare. But this legislation will end any hope or pretense of privacy.