New Medical Regs Are as Private as a Hospital Gown

By Lucier, James P. | Insight on the News, December 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

New Medical Regs Are as Private as a Hospital Gown


Lucier, James P., Insight on the News


Anyone who has serious concerns about President Clinton's new privacy standards for the use of personal health information has until Jan. 3, 2000, to send comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS. The draft regulations and instructions for sending official comments are posted at www.hhs.gov/hottopics/healthinfo/ index.html.

At the White House on Oct. 29 Clinton announced: "Every American has a right to know that his or her medical records are protected at all times from falling into the wrong hands." The regulations, which were published by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, may give as much privacy as a hospital gown.

What happens if your records fall into the "right" hands as determined by the bureaucrats? According to the draft regulations, patients would have no say about their personal medical information being released to a variety of government agencies and their partners. The draft regulations say, "We are proposing rules that would permit use or disclosure of health information without individual authorization for the following national priority activities and activities that allow the healthcare system to operate smoothly."

The list of who would have the right to muck around in personal medical histories includes those who have oversight of the health-care system; those who perform public-health functions and engage in medical research; those who are responsible for judicial and administrative proceedings and are engaged in law enforcement; those who operate government health-data systems; and even banks processing health-care payments and premiums. A series of draconian fines may be assessed against those who misuse the information, but "individuals would have no right of action" to sue if damaged by the misuse or the failure of government to protect medical privacy. …

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