MEDICAL PRIVACY: Compromise Has Something for Everyone
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a draft medical records privacy bill yesterday that draws from all three competing measures, but has not yet received all of the sponsors' blessings. The provision released by committee staff "uses as its starting point" Sens. Jim Jeffords (R-VT) and Christopher Dodd's (D-CT) bipartisan bill, but also includes key provisions of Sen. Robert Bennett's (R-UT) bill, which emphasizes the access-to-information needs of clinical researchers, and draws a bill by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which leans toward stricter patient protections. Senate aides said that Kennedy and Bennett have yet to sign on to the new draft -- which "they declined to describe ... as a consensus agreement" -- but the aides hoped "the draft can win bipartisan support" in keeping with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) desire to have an easily approved bill reach the Senate floor.
In a nod to Jeffords' and Dodd's middle-of-the-road approach, the draft bill would "pre-empt state medical records privacy laws, except public health and mental health laws," but would "grandfather in all existing state laws that provide patients with stronger privacy protections." The measure would also bar states from enacting future medical records laws. The bill, in line with Bennett's proposal, would enable HMOs, insurers, hospitals or other health care providers to use patient information to manage business operations, but would provide a "finite list" of allowable uses -- Bennett had merely listed "examples." The compromise bill would require that all users of patient medical records designate an "information protections officer," but does not yet resolve "the question of how to regulate patient information used in privately-funded research." Aides said a decision on regulation of private research could be delayed until next week (Morrissey, CongressDaily, 5/20).