HHS Finalizes Medical Privacy Rules

August 12, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The first-ever federal protections for patient privacy will give patients some additional protections, but critics say they don't go far enough.

As promised last March (see Health And Human Services Revises Patient Privacy Rules ), on Friday the Department of Health and Human Services formally set aside rules drafted in the waning days of the Clinton Administration that would have required a patient’s written consent before information about their health could be shared between doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.  Critics of the Bush approach are concerned that, absent a guarantee of privacy, some patients might keep important data from doctors (see Privacy Proposal Prompts Concerns ).

Good Faith

However, under the new rules doctors and other health-care providers will have to notify patients of privacy policies and make a “good faith effort” to get written acknowledgment. Health-care providers had argued that requiring written permission could slow or thwart needed treatments.

In addition, health-care providers are prohibited from disclosing patient information for reasons unrelated to health services under the final rules, which also establish civil and criminal penalties for violations. The final rules also give patients the right to inspect and copy their records and ask for corrections.

The regulations take effect April 14, 2003.

Conflicting Opinions

The Clinton version of the proposal, which was never put into effect, would have required signed consent forms from patients even for routine matters such as billing statements to insurance providers. 

Health care providers were enthusiastic about the final version.  However, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says he plans to introduce legislation to reinstate the mandatory consent forms.

See also:

Privacy Pleas

Info posted on HHS Office for Civil Rights Privacy Web site

  Pre-publication of final changes to Privacy Rule  (will be published in the Federal Register on August 14)