Thompson Expects to Change but Not Scrap Privacy Rules
Responding to industry complaints about cost and "complexity," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said yesterday he will amend Clinton administration medical privacy rules but added that they will not be "scrapped altogether," the Wall Street Journal reports. As written, the rules would establish "strict new standards" on how health care providers may disclose personal medical information (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 3/28). The regulations would create a "federal right" to privacy of medical records, requiring written permission from patients before providers could disclose the information (Meckler, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 3/28). In a meeting with reporters, Thompson did not address what changes would be made, though he noted, "[T]here will be some modifications to simplify and lessen the financial burden" (Wall Street Journal, 3/28). He added, "There will be lots of security placed in there so patients' rights and records will be protected, which is something that [President Bush] and myself will insist upon" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 3/27).
Thompson also did not address when the changes will be made: Though he said he would decide on modifications within the next 30 days, it remains unclear whether the changes will be made after the rules take effect on April 14 -- as permitted by the regulation -- or whether Thompson will delay implementation altogether to "rewrite major parts" of the rules. The Journal reports that pharmaceutical companies, chain drug stores and HMOs have criticized the rules, saying they would cost "billions of dollars" and require "massive overhauls" of information technology systems. Privacy advocates, however, say that the industry has "overblown" cost estimates. Joanne Hustead, senior counsel for the Health Privacy Project at Georgetown University, said, "What we're seeing now is a Chicken Little sky-is-falling campaign" (Wall Street Journal, 3/28).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.