Congress has approved of lifting a ban on giving medical patients a unique identifier as part of an effort to prevent the practice of doctor shopping for addictive painkillers and reduce medical mix-ups.

Congressman Bill Foster, a Democrat from Naperville, Illinois, introduced the amendment that was approved earlier this month as part of a $99.4 billion United States Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill. 

He said the measure would go a long way to fight the practice of doctor shopping for more prescription pain pills amid a deadly opioid crisis. Doctor shopping involves visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for pills.

“This would not only guard against doctor shopping by those who are struggling with substance abuse disorder, but could also prevent those in recovery from accidentally being given prescription opioids after an injury, surgery, or childbirth, triggering a relapse,” Foster when he introduced the amendment.

Specifically, assigning a unique number to a patient would give doctors a way to immediately identify a patient’s medical history. 

Pennsylvania Republican Mike Kelly said it would lower the cost of medical mix-ups due to misidentification. 

“Lives have been lost and medical errors have needlessly occurred,” he said, sharing a story about his elderly father nearly being given the wrong medication during a hospital stay.

“These are situations that could have been entirely avoidable and patients would have been able to have been accurately identified and matched with their records,” Kelly said.

Opponents of an identifier have said it opens up health records to unwanted surveillance or privacy breaches, suggesting biometric identifiers would have the same benefit without assigning a number to people. Others have said it is the first step to nationalizing the private healthcare industry.

Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.