Regulatory Issues. (Legal Reporter)

By Anderson, Teresa | Security Management, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Regulatory Issues. (Legal Reporter)


Anderson, Teresa, Security Management


Privacy. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed revised regulations relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The new proposal would weaken privacy provisions proposed earlier and allow doctors and hospitals to disclose private information about patients to third parties such as insurance companies without a patient's prior consent.

Under the original proposal, healthcare providers had to obtain written permission from patients before disclosing information even for routine matters. Under the new proposal, no such permission is needed. All healthcare providers must do is notify patients of privacy policies and make a "good faith effort" to get permission from patients. However, the new proposal clarifies that patient information may not be sold to drug companies or marketers without patient permission.

Other provisions of the new proposal include greater access to the medical files of minors by their parents--especially when the minor is seeking sensitive care such as an abortion or mental health or drug treatment. Under the previous proposal, minors who had access to such services were guaranteed privacy. Under the new proposal, minors have no right to privacy except in the few cases where state law specifically calls for such privacy rights.

Some privacy rights groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) claim that the new proposal is based on an overbroad reading of the law and is, therefore, misleading. In the press release announcing the new proposal, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that the revisions were necessary to correct certain absurdities in the law.

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