Senate Democrats Criticize Proposed Changes to Medical Privacy Rules
Democrats at a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing yesterday "harshly criticized" the Bush administration's proposal to alter certain medical privacy provisions put in place by the Clinton administration in December 2000, the New York Times reports. The Bush administration would drop a requirement that doctors, hospitals and other health care providers obtain written consent from patients before using their personal health information for treatment, reimbursement or other "health care operations" and administrative activities. Under the proposal, providers would still have to inform patients of their rights, and patients would have to acknowledge their receipt of such notices. The Bush administration's proposal would also "redefine" the ban on using patient information for marketing purposes by exempting from the ban materials that recommend alternative treatments, therapies, drugs or providers for individual patients (Pear, New York Times, 4/17). During yesterday's hearing, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the committee, called the proposed changes, which would take effect in April 2003, a "serious step backwards" and said he would introduce legislation to reinstate mandatory consent forms (AP/Dallas Morning News, 4/17). Kennedy added that the change in marketing regulations would create a "major loophole." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the changes would "substantially weaken the privacy rules." But HHS Deputy Secretary Claude Allen testified that the changes are necessary because "it's far more important that [the Bush administration] do nothing to impede access to care." He added, "Having privacy means little if you don't have access to care" (New York Times, 4/17). Allen said the new marketing regulations would permit providers to "communicate freely with patients about individual treatment options and other health-related information" (Rovner, Reuters Health, 4/16).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.