Thompson Addresses Medical Privacy In AAHP Speech
Speaking yesterday at an American Association of Health Plans conference, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said he would "reconsider" the Clinton administration's medical record privacy rules, the New York Times reports. He said that he would allow public comment on the final rules as issued by the Clinton administration. The rules, which the Clinton administration proposed in 1999, have already received more than 50,000 public comments and were published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28, 2000 (Pear, New York Times, 2/27). However, the rules were not sent to Congress for a 60-day review, as required by law, until Feb. 13., delaying the rules' effective date until mid-April (California Healthline, 2/26). Chris Jennings, former President Clinton's health policy director, said the delay was caused by an "unintended oversight" at HHS. He added that the mistake "was unknown to us until after we left office." Under the rules, patients would have a right to access and amend their medical records, while providers would be required to obtain written consent before disclosing any information (New York Times, 2/27).
The Times reports that the health care industry had lobbied for the delay, arguing the rules as written will "disrupt routine operations" and result in "costly burdens" for the industry (New York Times, 2/27). In addition, the industry says the rules establish "unworkable standards" that will cost "billions of dollars" each year to implement. Once a review is complete, Thompson said he intends to "put strong and effective health privacy protections into effect as quickly as possible." Privacy advocates, however, say any delay in implementing the rules may delay them "indefinitely" while "weakening ... privacy protections." Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University, said, "The reopening of the comment period is unjustified and appears to signal an attempt to weaken and roll back the privacy regulations. It's a bad sign." She added, "People have been waiting for years for these rules" (New York Times, 2/27).
Thompson also said at the AAHP conference that he plans to work with Congress on patients' rights legislation, hoping to "reach across the partisan divide" to draft a bill in the "next few weeks," CongressDaily/A.M. reports. Thompson said he will "sit down with members of Congress and the health care industry and craft a patients' bill of rights that protects and serves all Americans, but recognizes that many states already have these protections on the books." CongressDaily/A.M. reports that various bills are "in the pipeline," but legislators have yet to reach a compromise on who would be covered by the legislation and issues of liability for employers and providers. In addition, Thompson called for a review of HCFA's "mission, competing demands and resources" as well as a "bold new partnership between federal and state governments" to "address the problems of the uninsured" (Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 2/27).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.