Ruling Authorizes Lawsuits Over Certain Health Data Disclosures
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that California residents can sue health care providers, debt collectors and others who release their private medical data to a credit reporting agency, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 6/18).
The decision overturns a previous ruling by an appeals court, which dismissed the case because it saidÂ the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act preempted the state's Confidentiality of Medical Information Act.
The lawsuit stemmed from a dispute over a $600 dental bill for a service that Los Angeles attorney Robert Brown claimed he did not receive. Brown refused to pay the bill, so the dentist referred the bill and Brown's dental charts to a debt collector (Cheever, Bay City News/San Francisco Appeal, 6/16).
Federal law places restrictions on the disclosure of private medical records, but does not authorize lawsuits against those who disclose medical records to consumer reporting agencies during disputes over bills.
However, California's 1981 medical confidentiality law allows patients to sue anyone who divulges their health data without permission.
Details of the Ruling
In the latest ruling, Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar said that federal law and regulations "favor additional, more protective state legislation." She added that a 1996 federal law gave states greater authority to tighten privacy protections.
Arielle Cohen -- an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, which filed arguments on Brown's behalf -- said that although the ruling is binding only in California, it could affect data disclosure decisions in other states.
Charles Messer, an attorney for the debt collector, said he might ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/18).
The case now returns to Los Angeles Superior Court for a trial on Brown's lawsuit (Bay City News/San Francisco Appeal, 6/16).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.