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Consumer Groups Sue Over New Medical Privacy Rules

  • December 12th, 2003

A U.S. District Court heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by doctors, psychotherapists and 10 consumer and health advocacy groups accusing the Bush administration of failing to safeguard patients' privacy rights in implementing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The Act's rules, which cover the privacy of medical records and other patient information, took effect April 15 and prohibit disclosure, without patient permission, of information for anything other than "routine use." (See ElderLawAnswers news article, "New Privacy Rules Take Effect," April 15, 2003.)

In the lawsuit, which seeks an injunction against the new rules, the plaintiffs argue that the exception for "routine use" opens up all patient records to a wide variety of organizations and uses, including market research. One of the plaintiffs in the suit is a legal secretary who was contacted by a marketing company and quizzed about her recent experience with knee surgery. The company knew details of her surgery that she thought were between her and her doctor.

As it turns out, under the new privacy rules adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services patients actually have lost a surprising degree of control they had over their medical information, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The rules "intend to allow personal information to be used and disclosed freely, without any control by the individual, for these routine purposes," said James C. Pyles, an attorney for the plaintiffs, which include such groups as the Congress of California Seniors, with about 600,000 members. "We as plaintiffs have a right to not have the federal government grant express federal authority to third parties to release our private information to other members of the public," Pyles said.

The government, on the other hand, argues that the rules "strike a balance" between personal privacy concerns and those of the health insurers and medical providers who complained it would be too expensive and cumbersome to obtain patient consent every time an insurance company or medical specialist needed patient data.

Judge Mary A. McLaughlin of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania heard arguments in the case on Wednesday, Dec. 10.

For an article on the lawsuit in the Philadelphia Inquirer, go to: http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/news/nation/7463158.htm

Local Elder Law Attorneys in Ashburn, VA

Jean Ball

Hale Ball Carlson Baumgartner Murphy PLC
Fairfax, VA

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Last Modified: 12/12/2003

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