New Privacy Rules to Enhance Rights of Californians
New federal medical privacy rules that took effect on April 14 will help bolster patient privacy in California, which already has "fewer cracks and holes" in its privacy standards "than most states," the Los Angeles Times reports. Some of the most important provisions of the new regulations include:
- Informed Consent: Physicians will have to explain clearly and explicitly how a patients' medical information could be used.
- Amending Records: The new rules allow patients to "submit written amendments to their records, which doctors are required to consider."
- Mental Health Information: The new rules limit the amount of information that insurers may request from therapists to verify a claim.
The Times reports that while an "array of laws already affords Californians most of the protections contained in the new federal law," many observers believe that the federal regulations will enhance patient privacy. For example, current state law allows consumers to view their records, but not amend them. In addition, surveys conducted by the California HealthCare Foundation have found that 20% of adults "say they have taken precautions to protect their privacy, such as occasionally paying for care out of pocket even when they have insurance." Sam Karp, the foundation's chief information officer, said, "Twenty percent is a whole lot of people and some of them said they actually avoided seeking care because of privacy concerns." Beth Givens, director of the advocacy group Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, estimated that she has received more than 20,000 privacy complaints in the past 10 years. "I think the new rules will bring a strong culture of confidentiality to the workplace and to health care facilities. People will have a heightened awareness about" privacy, she said (Carey, Los Angeles Times, 4/23).
On a related note, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, has written a letter to the New York Times criticizing President Bush for creating an exemption to the privacy regulations by allowing parents to access their children's medical records, including in cases of abortion. Michelman writes that denying privacy rights to minors will cause many to "avoid or delay seeking care." She concludes: "Undoubtedly, the president was throwing a bone to conservatives. But all he has done is jeopardize the health of minors who, fearing for their privacy, may not seek needed medical treatment at all" (Michelman, New York Times, 4/22).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.