Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging HIPAA Privacy Rules
Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Mary McLaughlin on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed against HHS by doctors and consumer advocates seeking an injunction against privacy regulations enacted last April under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Slobodzian, Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/3). The HIPAA Federal Privacy Rule allows health care providers to share patient records for the purposes of treatment and other "health care operations." Providers do not have to obtain written consent before they disclose medical records, but rather have to inform patients of their new rights and make a "good faith effort" to obtain written acknowledgment from patients that they have received the information. Providers must obtain consent from patients before they can disclose medical records in "nonroutine" cases. Attorneys for the plaintiffs -- including groups representing about 750,000 consumers and medical professionals -- argued that the new regulations are written so broadly that patients do not have a say in how their medical information is used or shared by health plans, billing companies, drug companies and consultants and lawyers who do business with medical providers. In addition, they objected to patients being required to sign HIPAA consent forms that they say clear medical providers of liability for wrongly disclosed patient information (California Healthline, 12/11/03). Lawyers for HHS argued that the effect of the regulation is to give patients "unprecedented power to ensure" their privacy, according to the Associated Press. Last week, McLaughlin said in a pretrial ruling that the plaintiffs "had failed to show that the regulations were enacted improperly or were unconstitutional," the AP reports. "Because the Amended Rule is not compulsory in nature, it does not affirmatively interfere with any right," McLaughlin wrote (Caruso, Associated Press, 4/3). Further, she said that HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson did not act "arbitrarily" in enacting the new provision, the Inquirer reports.
Plaintiff's attorney James Pyles said he is "disappointed" by the decision, adding, "What [McLaughlin] is essentially saying is that it's OK under the Constitution for an individual's right of privacy to be determined by someone other than the individual. I find that very disturbing." Pyle said he would discuss the decision with his clients before deciding whether to challenge the ruling before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/3). A spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which represented Thompson, declined to comment on the ruling (Associated Press, 4/3).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.