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Patient Advocacy Groups Sue Government Over Privacy Regulations

Patient Advocacy Groups Sue Government Over Privacy Regulations


A coalition of patients and health care advocates filed a federal lawsuit on April 10 to invalidate new federal regulations, which took effect on April 14 under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, because of concerns that the new rules expand access to confidential patient information rather than keeping with the intention of the act. The law was designed to limit such access and even created federal penalties for unlawful disclosures, but the coalition claims that the new regulations actually permit unprecedented, unconstitutional access to files, without the consent of patients. That could be a particular worry for HIV-positive patients. Attorneys who filed the suit name as defendant Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson. The suit states, 'Under the secretary's action, virtually all personal health information about every aspect of an individual's life can be used and disclosed routinely without the individual's consent and against his or her will.' 'A big concern is that for people who have not disclosed to their employer their HIV status'a medical claim may get reported back to their employer and thereby 'out' someone with HIV,' says Lee Klosinski, director of programs at AIDS Project Los Angeles. 'Another concern is that someone will gain access to an electronic file and that confidential medical information could get out that way.' Health care advocates also worry that the act's provisions will be used by health insurance companies to deny coverage to some applicants or be used by employers to screen job applicants for current or potential future health problems. Security measures designed to prevent unlawful patient record access will not be implemented for two more years. 'The frontline defense for medical privacy always has been the patient's right to give or withhold consent to how records are used and who sees them,' says Kathryn A. Serkes, public affairs counsel for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that ran a series of Internet and national print ads blasting the new regulations. 'These rules throw that out the window.'

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