MEDICAL PRIVACY: HIAA Speaks Against Proposed HHS Rules
The Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) expressed concern yesterday that the HHS rule on protecting confidentiality of patients' medical records surpasses the intent of Congress and opens the door for lawsuits, CongressDaily reports. Moreover, HIAA is worried that HHS's proposed rules -- issued in November after Congress failed to meet the deadline to pass a medical records privacy law -- would require health plans to "police their [own] business partners," limit underwriting and address types of insurance exempted by law. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996, HIAA contends that HHS regulations are limited to electronic records and those that are maintained individually. However, HIAA argues that HHS goes beyond this scope by addressing certain types of insurance exempt from HIPAA and "usurping state authority" by addressing the issuance of individual insurance and premium setting. The group's concern about policing the use of patient information and increased liability -- potentially leading to increased premium costs for consumers -- echoed the sentiments voiced earlier this month by the American Association of Health Plans.
At the crux of the concern is the issue of medical error reporting. The proposed HHS standard would have "a chilling effect on detecting and reporting error. It would reduce the ability of physicians, nurses, non-physician providers and administrators to review and share information, thereby preventing health plans and insurers from quickly pinpointing medical errors ... [and] could even preclude structural changes that might help reduce them in the future," according to a summary of HIAA's comments. Advocating a change from the "minimum necessary" standard to a "reasonableness" standard to encourage error reporting, HIAA President Chip Kahn said, "We support federal action to protect the privacy of Americans. But we're disappointed that Congress has not yet acted on this" (Fulton, 2/14).