Now That Health Care is a Government Bureaucracy, It's Ripe for Technological Abuse

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, March 29, 2010

Welcome to the nightmare that will call itself government-run health care.

Why do I refer to our “landmark legislation” as a nightmare? Because, much like the world of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” bad things can happen at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected settings. So one minute you’re lounging in your nice, comfortable hospital bed, and the next you’re being pulled into the bed through some supernatural portal that leads to terror and death. And instead of having Freddy Krueger to blame, we’ll be pointing to our very necessary but very insecure technology as the culprit.

A recent item in the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Adrian Turner, CEO of Mocana, an Internet and software infrastructure security company in San Francisco, as saying that “much of the success or failure of health care reform will depend on our ability as a nation to leverage technology to reduce the expenses associated with treating, monitoring or administering conditions.” Indeed, the ponderous new law, which has admittedly not been read by some who voted for it, mandates that efficient databases and systems be developed to track everyone’s medical treatment and history.

Turner says that a new generation of connected medical devices will almost certainly play a role in dramatically lowering health care costs. He adds, however, that many of these devices, including pacemakers, insulin pumps and remote patient-monitoring systems, have been fielded without adequate security on board. So, a gigantic new database will be created that contains very personal and sensitive information about all of us, and those devices used to harvest such information constitute a security risk.

Concerned about your privacy? Not to worry. Our data will be protected by the same federal government that guards critical systems like those at the Department of Defense (which has been hacked several times in recent years). Sad to say, but some of the most insecure systems around are those under the purview of the federal government. Maybe it’s just me, but I am not comforted by the idea of yet another government agency riddled with inefficiency playing fast and loose with my private data.

Then we have the IRS, which will make sure that anyone who doesn’t spend his or her own cash on health care insurance will be heavily fined or locked up. Aside from the obvious Stalinist overtones of such a requirement (How dare you not buy insurance when our glorious leaders have ordained that you must?), that body’s new role will require it also to be linked into this new government database, creating yet more vulnerability.

When you put this all together, it points to the need for billions more to be spent on security for literally thousands of medical devices that will somehow be linked to a bunch of new federal agencies (that is, bureaucracies) and many of the existing ones. Don’t count on that security showing up any time soon, however, because by the time feds mandate a security strategy, it will already be out of date. That’s because the federal government moves much more slowly than the technological Freddy Kruegers out there who aim to shred our lives and bring us misery.

Are there more “nightmare” surprises waiting in this 2,000-page holy scripture of the Congress and this President? Given the number of new federal agencies created, the existing instability of federal systems and the government’s inability to quickly react to technology-based attacks, it’s just about a lock.

I wonder if they have a line on this in Vegas.

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

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