MEDICAL PRIVACY: Are HHS Rules Adequate?
Medical privacy rules proposed last November by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala would not adequately protect individual rights and would compromise patient care by restricting the flow of information, health industry officials said yesterday at a meeting of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Industry representatives argued that congressional action is the "key to assuring confidentiality in the treatment of medical records," the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. Health Insurance Association of America President Chip Kahn said, "The regulations are a good effort. [But] their shortcomings point to why it's vitally important for Congress to pass confidentiality legislation that protects both consumers' medical records and their ability to receive high-quality care." The rules would limit disclosure of medical information to the "minimum necessary," give patients the right to view their medical records, require health care providers to sign privacy contracts with partners and supersede weaker state rules on privacy.
Kahn argued that the "minimum necessary" disclosure standard is "too narrow" and "would have a chilling effect on detecting and reporting (medical) errors." John Houston of the American Hospital Association agreed, warning, "This is completely at odds with good medical practice and is potentially very dangerous." He added that the rules could increase health care costs. Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University, said the proposed regulations also "give too little weight to individual rights because people can't control the use and disclosure of health information used for treatment, payment and health care operations." Others testifying said Shalala is "limited in what she could impose without congressional action" and noted that the rules would only apply to electronic data and not paper records, which comprise most health information (Abrams, 4/27).