My Health Opt-Out Deadline Extended To January 31 As Website Crashes Under Demand

The Senate has voted to extend the My Health Records opt-out period to January 31, as Australians report systems crashing and phone lines jammed, and experts maintain privacy issues still need to be addressed.

Thursday was meant to be the cut-off date to opt out of the health records database, and many people reported long phone wait times, busy phone lines and crashing websites as they tried to leave the system.

The Senate voted on Wednesday afternoon to extend that November 15 deadline to January 31, giving people more time to investigate their options and opt out if they wished.

The system has been under the microscope since the opt-out period began in July.

Opting out was only meant to be available until October.

However, outrage from privacy and health groups -- as well as Labor and the parliament's crossbench -- over how records could be accessed, and by who, as well as calls for greater public education around the system, saw the government rush through changes. Privacy protections were tightened, and the opt out period was originally extended to November 15, and had now again been extended to January.

Controversy over the system began when it was switched from an opt-in system, meaning people had a choice over whether they would have a record created or not, to an opt-out system, where record creation was automatic unless people specifically requested they not have one.

Many concerns have been raised, including over the security of the system, hacking, the possibility that insurance providers or other private companies could access the information, or that violent partners might be able to track down their spouses who attempt to flee domestic violence situations.

READ MORE: Why So Many People Are Opting Out Of My Health Records

READ MORE: The Five Biggest My Health Dramas Of The Week

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Around 1.15 million Australians have opted out of My Health in recent months. In recent days, there has been a rush of people looking to opt out, with some reporting long wait times for the online form and extended hold times on the phones. Some told 10 daily they had tried multiple times on Tuesday and Wednesday to opt out, but experienced website crashes and phone calls left unanswered.

This reporter opted out online at 10.30am on Wednesday, and the entire process took less than three minutes. However, others in the 10 daily office reported the online system repeatedly timing out, and phone calls dropping out.

But the same people who had objections earlier say the pertinent issues haven't been addressed yet.

Labor supports the general idea of My Health -- it was first thought up under an ALP government -- but opposes how the system has been rolled out, and has slammed how the current government has amended the original plan.

Labor will push for the opt-out period to be further extended, as the Senate debates a bill to strengthen privacy protections around the system including new penalties for those who misuse My Health. The opposition wants the opt out period extended by a full 12 months.

Many doctors and advocates say the centralised information database will have huge benefits in helping deliver care to patients, but many digital experts are opposed to the very idea of such a large central point of sensitive data.

READ MORE: Why I'm Opting Out Of My Health Record, And You Should Too

Some Liberal politicians, like Victorian MP Tim Wilson --  chair of the government’s standing committee on health -- have opted out of the system.

Labor wants the opt out period to be extended, to allow more time for people to opt out of My Health or to at least educate themselves on the details before agreeing to have a record created.

The Senate will debate the motion through Wednesday.

For more information, or to opt out, see the My Health website.