U.S. Moves To Cloak Medical Records

December 20, 2000 12:00 am

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ACLU News Wire: 12-20-00 — U.S. Moves To Cloak Medical Records

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The Clinton administration issued broad new regulations on December 20th to safeguard the confidentiality of Americans’ medical records, establishing the first federal protections aimed at limiting what information doctors, hospitals and health plans can divulge without patients’ consent according to the Washington Post.

The rules are significantly more far reaching than those proposed by the White House a year ago, covering not only electronic medical records, as was initially outlined, but also paper records and oral communications, the Post reported. They also require patients’ written consent for even routine disclosure of information, something not covered in the administration’s earlier plan, and close a loophole that would have allowed large self-insured employers access to medical records without patient approval.

They will guarantee patients access to their health files, restrict the release of their personal information without their approval and give them greater say about how the files are being used, administration officials told the Post.

Privacy advocates said the regulations do not go as far as they want in certain respects. While they indirectly apply to insurers and contractors that perform services for health providers, they do not directly cover pharmaceutical companies and businesses that process medical claims.

“Medical information is the most intimate information people have, and it’s important that the individual control that information,” Ron Weich, a legislative consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Post.

Weich noted that police can still gain access to medical records under the new rules, although they do establish a legal process governing how law enforcement authorities can do this. Police must first obtain an administrative subpoena or a summons, which they can generate themselves, and are still not required to go before a neutral judge.

Source: Washington Post, December 20, 2000

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