WASHINGTON -- The health care industry is lobbying the Bush
administration to delay, change or kill regulations protecting the
privacy of medical records.
Hospitals, insurance companies, health maintenance organizations
and medical researchers say the rules, issued in the final weeks of
the Clinton administration, would impose costly new burdens. But
members of Congress say privacy protections are immensely popular
Bush administration officials, caught in the middle, say they are
looking for ways to revise and simplify the Clinton rules, which are
scheduled to take effect on Feb. 26.
Consumer advocates describe the rules as a milestone in the
history of American medicine, the first comprehensive federal
standards for medical privacy.
Under the rules, health care providers must obtain written
consent from patients for the use or disclosure of information in
their medical records. The rules will affect virtually every doctor,
patient, hospital, pharmacy and insurance plan in the United States.
Critics say the Clinton administration went overboard in pursuing
a worthy goal. The rules, they say, are too prescriptive and, in
many ways, unworkable. Health care providers of all types have
flooded the new administration with requests to shelve the rules or
reopen the rule-making process to solicit public comment on the need
for major changes.
John P. Houston, a lawyer at UPMC Health System, affiliated with
the University of Pittsburgh, said hospitals would have to buy
expensive information technology, hire and train employees and
rewrite contracts with hundreds of suppliers to comply with the
The rules, he said, are so restrictive that they "could impede
patient care and disrupt essential operations" of hospitals.
Pharmacists say the consent requirement would be impractical in
many situations. How, they ask, can they obtain written consent from
a patient whose doctor phones in a prescription that is picked up by
a neighbor or a relative?
"Thirty-five to 40 percent of all prescriptions are picked up by
someone other than the patient, in most cases a family member," said
Todd Andrews, a spokesman for CVS Corp., which filled 300 million
prescriptions at 4,100 drugstores in 31 states last year.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the rules were causing "lots of
unanticipated difficulties." Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was
"stunned and terribly worried" by the rules. In many parts of
Kansas, he said, hospitals are short of doctors and nurses and are
"struggling to keep their doors open," so they cannot cope with the
But Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said voters would punish
politicians who weaken privacy protections. "The public cares about
this issue very, very much," he said.
Under the rules, every health care provider must appoint a
"privacy official" to develop privacy policies and procedures.
Patients would, for the first time, have a federal right to inspect
and copy their medical records and could propose corrections. …