MEDICAL PRIVACY: HHS Refuses Comments Faxed Via ACLU
HHS has refused to accept thousands of faxes commenting on proposed medical privacy regulations, officials at the American Civil Liberties Union charge. According to the ACLU, about 2,400 faxes generated through the organization's Web site were disregarded by HHS officials, who told the group in December that "the faxes would not be accepted as a matter of HHS policy because the agency does not have the resources to handle faxes or e-mails properly." In a January letter to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, Laura Murphy, director of the D.C. ACLU office, wrote, "My central focus is that the concerns of thousands of Americans must be heard by their government and that your agency must make itself open to receiving public comments in an accessible and easy manner."
HHS spokesperson Lorrie McHugh said that the agency received only about 100 of the faxes because the deluge quickly caused a fax machine jam. She added that an announcement in the Federal Register clearly denotes that citizens can submit comments through the HHS Web site at aspe.hhs.gov/admnsimp or by sending three copies of written remarks to a specific address. "We make every effort to make commenting as easy as possible," she said. But ACLU officials argue that the comment area on the HHS site is too difficult to find and providing three letters is "too cumbersome." ACLU spokesperson Jennifer Helburn said, "We don't care if it's a fax. It could be an e-mail. It could be anything. What we want is for there to be some way for a regular person to say, 'Hey, I'm concerned about this.'" The comment period on the proposed rules ends Feb. 17 (White, Washington Post, 2/10).