After months of legislative tweaks and public debate, the opt-out window of the contentious My Health Record has once more been extended.
Australians will now have until 31 January 2019 to opt out of the scheme.
Citizens who do not opt out before the deadline will have an electronic record automatically created on their behalf.
Originally set for 16 July to 15 October, the three-month opt-out window was first extended one month to close on 15 November following widespread opposition.
This latest change will mean the opt-out period will eclipse six months in duration – more than double the time originally proposed.
The latest change came after a busy day in the Senate on Wednesday.
The ALP initially made an amendment request to extend the period for 12-months, only to have it defeated 32-30 in the Senate.
Leader of the One Nation Party Pauline Hanson then put forward the My Health Records Amendment (Strengthening Privacy) Bill 2018, which proposes the opt-out period ends on 31 January.
The Senate accepted the last-minute motion.
“A lot of people feel as though they haven’t had enough information with regards to My Health Records,” Hanson told the Senate.
“In this amendment, it gives the public more time to understand about My Health Records and what it means to them.”
Despite previously resisting attempts to further lengthen the window, Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted his support for the latest extension on Wednesday.
“Today the Government worked with the Senate crossbench to extend the opt-out period for #MyHealthRecord,” he wrote.
“We thank the crossbench for not delaying this important policy change as Labor tried so desperately to do.
“The Govt’s focus is on strengthening the safety and privacy of health information in the My Health Record system.”
Changes yet to pass
The extension came after the government introduced a bill that made key changes to the existing legislation.
One change was around the deletion of a record.
Previously, if a user cancelled their record, the Australian Digital Health Agency would hold it for 30 years after the user’s death.
The latest changes mean the ADHA must destroy the records if asked.
The recent changes will also require law enforcement to have a court order to access a requested My Health Record.
These changes follow earlier recommendations from a Senate inquiry around lengthening penalties for improper use, protection for those in domestic violence situations, employers prohibited from requesting a record and exclusions to health insurers.
These amendments will all need to go to the lower house when it returns on 26 November.
Many argued it was inappropriate for the government to continue with the original 15 November deadline with so many changes in the pipeline.
“There is widespread confusion surrounding the rollout of My Health Record,” said recently elected Member for Wentworth, Dr Kerryn Phelps.
“There are serious questions over privacy and security that need to be debated and legislated by the parliament.”
More technical issues
Earlier on Wednesday, there had been more technical issues with the My Health Record website and helpline as users rushed to opt out before the 15 November deadline.
Users across social media reported the opt-out site to be down, with browsers displaying an ‘unable to fulfil the request’ message for some when trying to access the site.
The phoneline meanwhile left some users waiting for well over an hour to connect.
“I believe that the My Health Record system will benefit many Australians but with the website crashing and people reporting difficulty opting out I believed it was only fair and reasonable to extend the initial opt-out period,” said Hanson.