If there was ever a question about corporate ownership of the Bush White House, recent actions in regard to the privacy of personal medical data should remove all doubt.

Rather strict rules safeguarding the medical records of people were finally developed by the Clinton administration and promulgated in March 2002. This was clearly needed, due to the explosion of and the availability of computer-generated medical records.

If you put the patient first, then all other organizations, corporations and institutions would have to make adjustments. The rules as proposed by Clinton, while difficult to follow, would have been a great step forward. The fundamental issue of patients first had been satisfied.

But, those rules are no longer the rules. In a typical unilateral, arrogant manner, the Bush administration has tossed them aside and replaced them with rules more favorable to corporations.

Under the Clinton rules, patients would have to provide written consent before their records could be used in any manner. This would make sense to anyone who does not want their medical records shared with their employers, the media or the new witch-hunts being planned by Attorney General John Ashcroft. As an example of how people fear their medical records may be misused, physicians and other professional hospital personnel never get their medical treatment at “their” hospital because they know the problems of released medical records.

Now, under the Bush rules, patients only have to be “notified” of their remaining rights and make, “a good-faith effort to obtain a written acknowledgement of receipt of the notice.” In other words, the small print on hospital records and prescription drugs will be a little longer. Patient records will go to the highest bidder. Suffice it to say that all consumer groups and patient-rights advocates oppose these changes.

The Clinton rules put the clamps on pharmacists from commercially exploiting the personal medical information that is available on prescriptions. The original intent was to stop drug companies from directly marketing to prescription drug users. But, in a sleight of hand by the Bush administration, a drug company will now be allowed to pay a pharmacy to act as its agent, thus allowing the pharmacy to do the marketing of their drugs without disclosing the payment by the drug company for this service. This originally would have been totally deceitful and illegal, but is now it is full steam ahead for the profiteers.

Keep in mind we are not talking about the mom and pop pharmacies. Those days are long gone. Today chain-store pharmacies across the country will be part of the vertical integration of the drug companies in “marketing,” that is, selling drugs to patients that they may not even need.

This pharmacy/drug company cabal opens the door to massive financial fraud, potential death and long disability to patients.

Advocacy groups – and, most importantly, organized labor – cannot take this sitting down. The broadest coalition of forces will be needed to deal with the question.

The November elections can be the means through which we can put patients back in the driver’s seat. Everyone running for office should be forced to take a position on this crime.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org