Industry Lobbies To Block Clinton Medical Privacy Rules
With Clinton administration rules to protect patient privacy set to take effect on Feb. 26, the health care industry is continuing to lobby the Bush administration and members of Congress to change, delay or terminate the new regulations before they are implemented, the New York Times reports. The Bush administration is reviewing the Clinton administration's rules, but is "caught in the middle" of industry attempts to revise and simplify the rules and reports of their popularity with consumers (Pear, New York Times, 2/12). The rules would give individuals the right to see and amend their medical records, restrict release of medical information, require providers and health plans to develop policies to protect privacy and require written consent from patients to use medical information in nonemergency situations (California Healthline, 12/20/00). Now that the Clinton administration has issued the final rules, which are "more protective" than the proposed rules, the industry has "increased its objections," saying Clinton administration officials "went overboard in pursing a worthy goal" (New York Times, 2/12).
In opposing implementation of the rules, industry groups say the regulations would "stymie medical research, prevent patients from receiving needed treatment and cost billions of dollars." In addition, industry groups say the rules give "too much leeway" to the states in developing privacy standards, thereby undermining the purpose of national regulations. John Houston, data security officer at UPMC Health System in Pittsburgh, said, "The privacy rule represents yet another unfunded federal mandate that hospitals must absorb" (Ornstein, Dallas Morning News, 2/12). He said that hospitals would need to purchase information technology, hire and train employees and rewrite contracts with suppliers to comply with the rules, adding that the rules "could impede patient care and disrupt essential [hospital] operations" because they are so restrictive. Dr. Donald Palmisano, a trustee of the American Medical Association, said, "The rules miss the mark. They will increase costs and paperwork for physicians without improving patient care. The rules will not accomplish what they set out to do because of loopholes for marketing, law enforcement and loosely defined 'health care operations.'"
Patients' rights advocates, however, say the rules are a "milestone" in American medicine, as they are the first "comprehensive" federal standards for patient privacy. Shannah Koss, an expert on health information technology at IBM said, "It will be a real loss if these standards are significantly delayed or severely watered down. It would be better to try to fix the problems, because there's real value in privacy." Gary Claxton, who led the rule-writing effort in the Clinton administration, said, "People in the industry should get on with the business of carrying out the rules, but instead they want to keep talking forever. They are not interested in giving patients control or even a say over how their personal medical information is used" (New York Times, 2/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.