Health Groups Urge HHS to Delay Patient Privacy Rules
The health care industry wants HHS to "rewrite" medical privacy rules issued by the Clinton administration, saying that the regulations would "delay help to patients," the AP/Washington Post reports. According to the AP/Post, health groups have asked HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson to delay the rules "beyond the April 14 effective date" and eliminate "key provisions" that they say would "hamstring their ability to serve patients" (AP/Washington Post, 3/14). In comments filed with HHS, the Healthcare Leadership Council, a health industry group, called the April 14 date "unworkable," citing the "magnitude of changes needed to fix what providers say is wrong with the rule." Still, HLC President Mary Grealy said, "We believe it can be fixed." Providers have asked the Bush administration to reconsider the privacy rules, which would require them to obtain written consent from patients before "using or disclosing identifiable medical information for routine purposes."
For pharmacists, Grealy added, the requirement could result in "chaos at the counter" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 3/15). "Pharmacies are literally expecting chaos at the counters when people try to pick up their own or their families' prescription drugs without having the proper consent forms on file," she said (AP/Washington Post, 3/14). In addition, Carlos Ortiz of the CVS pharmacy chain said that regulations protecting oral communications with patients would likely "hinde[r]" pharmacists, preventing them from "perform[ing] simple tasks," such as recommending an over-the-counter cold remedy for a patient with high blood pressure. Critics also have questioned a provision that would require providers to disclose only the "minimum necessary" information. "The HLC believes that these problems and others can be addressed, and once they are, a new rule can -- and should -- move ahead," the group said in comments to HHS, adding, "But moving ahead on a flawed and unworkable rule does not advance the cause of protecting patient privacy or improving the quality and availability of health care" (CongressDaily/A.M., 3/15). Thompson told the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday that he has not decided "what course to take on the rules" and would consider public comments (AP/Washington Post, 3/14).