A pair of California health insurance companies are teaming up to launch a unified healthcare database and hoping other companies will jump in to help the $80 million project. The system, called Cal Index, promises to make medical recordkeeping more agile, more private and more secure.

Blue Shield of California and Anthem Blue Cross expect the Cal Index system to serve approximately 9 million users by the end of the year, which would likely make the health database the largest of its kind in the US.

Everyone is on Facebook, because everyone else is on Facebook, said Paul Markovich, president of Blue Shield. Similarly, so he believes healthcare providers and insurance agencies will want to sign up for Cal INDEX because that's where the data will be housed.

"If California is going to have affordable, quality healthcare, all players have to do their part to improve the healthcare system," said Markovich. "Although Blue Shield and Anthem Blue Cross are fierce market competitors, in order to create the scale Cal INDEX needs, we knew we needed to work together. We hope that physicians, nurses, hospitals, regional HIEs, health systems and accountable care organizations will feel the same way, and join us and improve the health of Californians."

Linda Sherry, spokeswoman for Consumer Action, a national consumer advocacy group, said the sheer amount of data and the nature of the information raises some potential security concerns about Cal Index.

"Health data being so sensitive, we are very concerned when too much of it is available to too many people," Sherry said. "It is even scarier when you think of the sheer number of records in a database like this."

Cal Index' $80 million in seed funds, sourced from health plans, has been scheduled for disbursal over the course of the next three years. Organizers of the unified health system have expressed hope that other insurance companies will join in and float money to support the pool.

While finances may emerge as a stumbling block for Cal Index a few years down the line, privacy and security concerns could serve as a perpetual hindrance to the project.

Back in June of 2014, hackers compromised approximately 1.3 million records stored databases maintained by Montana's Department of Public Health and Human Services. The intrusion exposed names, birth dates, social security numbers and maybe even service requests submitted by past and current Montana citizens.

In a more recent string of database breaches, Russian Hackers collected more than 1.2 billion unique pairs of usernames and passwords from hundreds of thousands of website around the globe.

"Patients have expectations that their records will be private - at the same time they want their providers to have access to enhance their medical options and outcomes," said California's Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley. "This is the balance we are all striving for."

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