MAINE: New Privacy Law Temporarily Suspended
In response to intense public criticism, Maine lawmakers have begun parliamentary procedures to temporarily repeal the state's medical privacy law that went into effect Jan. 1, the Portland Press Herald reports. According to state legislators, the state House and Senate are expected today to suspend the new statute until Oct. 1 to "give legislators time to fix problems." The new law "severely restricts what information hospitals and health care workers may report about patients" without their consent "to family, friends, clergy or the news media" (Hench, 1/12). The Bangor Daily News reports that Gov. Angus King (I) is expected to sign the temporary suspension today (1/11). The law, aimed at hospitals, health clinics, pharmacies, nursing homes and drug companies, "was intended to give patients the final say in who has access to their medical information," but in the two weeks since the law has been enacted, critics have protested that it "has unnecessarily interfered with families' ability to get information about loved ones." Hospitals have been leery of violating the statute because it carries fines ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. "The problem is, health care providers aren't divulging any information to family, clergy, florists or anyone else," said state Sen. Norman Ferguson (R). "This has caused tremendous grief among the general public," he added.
Leading the charge to suspend the law's enforcement are Ferguson and state Rep. Joseph Brooks (D), members of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. They have submitted a bill to repeal the law outright, but have agreed to "hold off while efforts are made to improve it. State Rep. Elaine Fuller (D), who said the law is "a good one" that can be salvaged with "minor changes," submitted an amendment to the committee that would indicate which members of a family "can act on behalf of a patient who cannot consent orally or in writing to releasing medical information" (Press Herald, 1/12).