Senate holds hearings on restricting access to medical records
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Senate hearings got under way in early November on a proposed bill designed to restrict access to personal medical information. It would allow health officials to disclose to reporters the health status of accident and crime victims, but would give victims a right of veto over that disclosure.
Under many current state laws, health officials need not seek the victim’s permission before giving such status reports to journalists.
The Medical Records Confidentiality Act, authored by Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah), would also explicitely allow for disclosure of a victim’s health status when the victim is not competent to be notified about a right to object.
Privacy advocates and health care industry lobbyists testified in early November at a Senate Labor and Human Relations Committee hearing on the bill, which creates civil and criminal penalties against health care personnel for the mishandling of personal medical information.
While health information service lobbyists claimed the bill goes too far in protecting privacy at the expense of health care information handlers, privacy advocates charge the bill is the handiwork of an information service industry anxious to reap profits from fingertip access to a vast body of computerized health data.
Senator Bennett insisted that the bill establishes a federal standard of confidentiality in place of a patchwork of state confidentiality laws that, he claims, inadequately protect the health care consumer’s interest.
The committee is considering changes proposed at the November hearing by both privacy and health care industry advocates, according to its chair, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.). (S. 1360)