Medical Privacy Protections ‘Long Overdue,’ Chronicle Says
President Bush's decision to adopt "most of the medical privacy rules issued in the last days of the Clinton administration" is a "major victory for patients' rights," according to a San Francisco Chronicle editorial. The new rules, which will be phased in over two years and are expected to be modified by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, include "[k]ey provisions" that make "patients the gatekeepers of their own medical records with the right to inspect, copy and correct them," the editorial states. With medical confidentiality "especially important at a time when computerized data on the most intimate aspects of patients' lives can be obtained and distributed with a mouse click," the editorial notes that the rules "ban doctors, hospitals, HMOs, pharmacies and practically all health care providers from releasing medical records without a patient's written consent." Violation of the rules carries $250,000 in fines, and the "worst offenders, who sell private health information for profit, could receive 10-year prison terms," the editorial notes. The health care industry "bitterly resisted" implementation of the rules, which it said were "too complex and too costly," and the editorial notes that industry officials were "disappointed" that Bush failed to "dilute the rules before putting them into effect." The editorial concludes, "The regulations will not preempt stronger privacy laws in California and a dozen other states, but they will establish a comprehensive national standard of medical confidentiality, which is long overdue" (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/14).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.