Revised Medical Privacy Rule Would Favor Industry ‘Convenience’ Over Patient Protection, USA Today Says
By proposing a federal medical privacy regulation change that would eliminate the requirement that providers, insurers and pharmacies obtain written consent from patients before disclosing their medical records, the Bush administration is now "favoring the health care industry's convenience over patient protection," according to a USA Today editorial. But USA Today says that the administration now has "reversed field," as HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson has proposed replacing the written consent requirement with a rule that would allow providers to make a "good-faith effort" to obtain written acknowledgement from patients that they had been informed of their privacy rights. HHS officials have said that the old rules gave patients "little leverage" in determining what happens to their medical records, but USA Today says that the administration's "solution" would give patients "even less" power. The editorial says that patients "who see a consent form they must sign are far more likely to take it seriously than they would a 'notice'" written in technical language, which is likely to be "dismissed without much thought." Furthermore, the proposed changes come at the behest of insurance, doctor and hospital groups, which have "peddled scare stories" about how privacy rules would "delay critical health care" and interrupt important communication between providers. USA Today notes that "exceptions" were included in the original privacy rules to avoid such "pitfalls," like a "blanket exemption" for emergency situations. The editorial concludes, "The time for fudging medical privacy rules has come and gone. The administration should instead be working to see that they are vigorously enforced when they become effective next year" (USA Today, 3/27).
Eliminating the written consent requirement in medical privacy laws is a "common sense way to enhance patient privacy" and helps eliminate the "paperwork hassle" created by the "redundant requirement," Dick Davidson, president of the American Hospital Association, writes in a USA Today opinion piece. Under the proposed requirements, patients would receive a "simple but effective ... 10-plus-page" document outlining their privacy rights. Patients would only have to "acknowledge" that they received the document. According to Davidson, the "original requirement provided no additional information to patients and did nothing to enhance their medical privacy rights." In addition, the new requirement eliminates the need for patients to sign a consent form each time they go to a doctor, pharmacy or hospital, ridding patients of a "major barrie[r]" to care. Davidson concludes, "Plain and simple, patients have the same privacy rights under this proposal -- just less paperwork to contend with. The result: better access to care and less paperwork for everyone. That's a goal patients and providers can all support" (Davidson, USA Today, 3/27).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.