New York Times Editorials Examine Issues of Online, Medical Privacy
Two editorials in yesterday's New York Times addressed the issues of online and medical privacy. A summary of the editorials appears below.
- Online privacy: The first Times editorial states that Congress should pass the Online Personal Privacy Act, sponsored by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), to "give individuals more control" over their personal information, including medical records (New York Times, 5/20). The bill would require Web sites and Internet service providers to disclose their information collection practices and inform users of changes and would allow users to review information collected about them. In addition, the bill would allow users to sue Web sites for privacy violations at $5,000 per violation in cases where they can prove damages (California Healthline, 5/17). The legislation, approved last week by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, faces "fierce" opposition from a number of groups, including the health care industry, whose representatives "will not admit that there is money to be made invading privacy and selling sensitive information," the editorial states. The editorial urges Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to "make this bill a priority" and calls on House leaders to develop "stronger" online privacy legislation than the "toothless" bill that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced earlier this month.
- Medical privacy: The second Times editorial calls the Bush administration's proposed reforms to the medical privacy rule implemented last year a "reasonable place to draw the line on this issue" (New York Times, 5/20). Under the proposed reforms, scheduled to take effect in April 2003, providers, insurers and pharmacies would not have to obtain written consent from patients before they disclosed their medical records to one another for the purposes of treatment or payment of claims. Providers would only have to make a "good-faith effort" to inform patients of their privacy rights and obtain written acknowledgement that they had informed patients. However, the reforms would require providers to obtain "explicit permission" from patients before they used their medical records for marketing purposes (California Healthline, 3/22). According to the editorial, the proposed reforms would offer patients privacy protection without "adding additional costs and legal or bureaucratic burdens" to a health system "under enormous financial strain." The editorial concludes, "Patients are far more worried about information seeping out of the health care system than about health professionals communicating among themselves" (New York Times, 5/20).