Clinton Administration Opens Files Under Medical Privacy Plan

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Under the guise of protecting medical privacy, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing to allow personal medical information be available to government agencies, student researchers and even some banking institutions.

Under the orders from President Bill Clinton made last October to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, the agency is seeking public comment through Thursday, February 17th, on its proposal to protect consumer's medical privacy.

But critics denounce the Administration's plan as doing more harm than good by allowing numerous government agencies, financial institutions and other entities access to supposedly confidential medical information.

Clinton announced the proposed rules when Congress failed to act on medical privacy by the August 21, 1999 deadline established in the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that directed the administration to take actions if Congress did not.

Under HHS proposed rule changes, law enforcement agents would need no warrant to access a person's private medical data. Medical students and researchers also would have access as well as those financial institutions which process health insurance payments and premiums.

Clinton lauded the new plan in October as a "landmark set of privacy protections for medical information" and suggested it was a sign of his Administration's "commitment to safeguarding the security of personal health information."

But the guidelines published on the Internet by the HHS indicate that individual medical privacy may be a thing of the past.

"Most uses and disclosures of an individual's protected health information would not require explicit authorization by the individual," the proposal reads.

Under the Clinton Administration's plan, the HHS would "establish several basic rights for individuals with respect to their protected health information."

Individuals would be able to obtain access to protected health information about them, which would include a right to inspect and obtain a copy of such information. However, individuals would not have the right to prohibit information from being shared with other so-called "covered entities."

"We also propose that individuals have a right to receive a written notice of information practices from covered entities," the proposal reads.

According to the proposal, the government's interest in personal medical information would outweigh the interest of the individual to keep matters private.

"After balancing privacy and other social values, we are proposing rules that would permit use or disclosure of health information without individual authorization for the following national priority activities and activities that allow the health care system to operate smoothly:

* Oversight of the health care system
* Public health functions
* Research
* Judicial and administrative proceedings
* Law enforcement
* Emergency circumstances
* To provide information to next-of-kin
* For identification of the body of a deceased person, or the cause of death
* For government health data systems
* For facility patient directories
* To banks, to process health care payments and premiums"

The HHS believes their new proposal would cost more than $3 billion to operate in the first year alone. However the costs of implementing some aspects of the plan have yet to be determined.

Among the government agencies involved in the proposed ruling were the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor, the Social Security Administration, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget.

The HHS also involved in the decision process the National Governors' Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Public Health Statistics and Information Systems.