The July 8 editorial "Still Not Private Enough" highlighted the important medical privacy issue but failed to mention the fast-approaching Aug. 21 deadline for Congress to act on it.

If Congress does not pass a medical privacy law by that date, the secretary of health and human services will be given free rein to establish regulations governing medical privacy by Feb. 21.

It seems highly unlikely that Congress can act quickly enough to ensure true patient confidentiality. In fact, proposed legislation claiming to protect Americans' medical privacy makes matters worse. Twila Brase, president of the Minnesota-based Citizens Council on Health Care, has pointed out that under proposed legislation, patients could become research subjects without their consent. Individuals also could be coerced into waiving their right to privacy in order to purchase health insurance.

If Congress fails to pass a medical privacy bill, the secretary of health and human services likely will establish regulations creating a unique health identifier for each American. That number would be used to track individuals' medical information electronically.

The best option for Congress at this point is to extend the Aug. 21 deadline. That would allow greater public input and time to debate the issue of electronic medical records. The way we address this issue will have an enormous effect on the future of privacy and liberty.

SUE A. BLEVINS

President

Institute for Health Freedom

Washington