Google Health is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on a pilot program in Arizona and Utah that lets Medicare beneficiaries import their Medicare claims data into Google Health.

The pilot is one of several CMS programs to test out how the government can give beneficiaries secure access to their medical data online. Before I came to Google, I worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which houses CMS. At the time, the idea of giving beneficiaries access to their own Medicare claims data in electronic format was just that — an idea. Today, it's becoming a reality. And given the more than $19 billion investment the government is making in Health IT as part of the stimulus package, now is the perfect time.

As a part-time caregiver to my mother who has a serious chronic illness and someone who just lost both elderly grandparents in the past four months to illness, I can see the benefit of having all of my family’s medical information organized in one place. When Google Health launched last year, I promptly set up accounts for my mother and both grandparents. But at the time, I found it frustrating that I was not able to access electronic copies of my grandparents' Medicare claims — where most of their medical data resided.

The Medicare Arizona and Utah pilot is designed to give beneficiaries choice in the tools they use to manage their medical records online. Google Health is one of four personal health records (PHR) that beneficiaries can choose from. While only traditional fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare beneficiaries with a primary residence in Arizona and Utah are eligible to participate, this includes nearly 1.1 million beneficiaries living in those regions.

For beneficiaries who choose to participate, it's important to know that Medicare does not have access to information in your Google Health Account — Medicare will only be sending data to your Account. Beneficiaries who participate in the pilot will still have access to data imported into their Google Health Accounts after the pilot concludes at the end of 2009. And with the recently launched Google Health sharing feature, any beneficiary enrolled in this pilot can now share this data with family members and doctors in their care network.

If I had this type of electronic access to my grandparents' medical records during my family's medical crisis, it would have been a huge help to me. I applaud CMS for taking this big step towards empowering consumers with access to their own health records.

If you're a Medicare beneficiary living in Arizona or Utah and are interested in participating in the pilot, you can get started here.