Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is calling for health data collected by devices such as smartwatches or a personal computer to be treated as if it were “protected health information.”

During an Axios virtual event on March 12, Sen. Cassidy said by wearing a smartwatch, a lot of people do not realize this data can be obtained by health insurers and used against them to deny coverage based on their medical information. Additionally, a simple Google search on how to manage a disease could be used against an individual to deny them coverage.

“The insurance company would say ‘that’s expensive. We’re going to have to pay for medications, or surgery, or something. We’re not sure we want to insure that person,’” Cassidy said. “A little bit of thinking about the implications of this surveillance state that we invite by wearing a watch or doing our searches, knowing that’s being monitored that began to indicate pretty clearly: we should be concerned about the privacy.”

One solution Cassidy proposed to address this privacy issue was the creation of a “data lake.”

“In the data lake, everybody’s data is put into the lake. It’s anonymized, you can extract a data set from the lake, but it cannot be reidentified,” Cassidy explained. “It will be used for artificial intelligence analysis to point a way forward for a tough medical condition, but it cannot be de-anonymized to connect it once more with me.”

On the flip side, Cassidy said collecting health data, especially from smartwatches, provides an opportunity for health experts to intervene and treat a patient when data indicates early signs of a disease, such as Parkinson’s disease.

When it comes to medical technology, Cassidy stressed the importance of using health data “for good and not for evil.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.