MEDICAL PRIVACY: Congress Still in the Game
Although Congress, in recess until Sept. 8, will de facto miss its Aug. 21 deadline for approving medical privacy regulations, legislators still have time to act in order to head off rules currently being drafted by HHS. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Congress must act by the August date, but "final guidance on medical records privacy" need not be issued until Feb. 21, 2000. Business Insurance reports that "[t]hat date is now considered more important than the August deadline Congress is expected to miss." HHS is therefore urging Congress to take up the issue and pass legislation, even as the agency works on its own regulations. Some observers expect Congress to pass a law by the end of the year, or simply extend its deadline. In either case, such action would "trump" any efforts by HHS. Four bills have been introduced; three in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and one in the House Commerce Committee. A fifth is expected to emerge in the House Ways and Means health subcommittee. Chief sticking points in the bills include provisions "that would impose criminal sanctions on violators and establish federal minimum guidelines for guaranteeing the confidentiality of personal health information" (Fletcher, 9/16 issue).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.