Americans Respond to Medical Privacy Regulations
Over 52,000 Comments Submitted to HHS
Congratulations freedom advocates! Thanks to the efforts
of citizens all across the country, the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) received over 52,000
comments about the proposed federal regulations on medical
privacy. Busy Americans took the time to tell the federal
government how much they care about medical privacy
and that they don't want Big Brother intruding into
their private medical records.
The response of over 52,000 comments is impressive
given that major newspapers and television networks
haven't covered the issue widely. The little reporting
that was done did not adequately explain that the regulations
would give many people new unfettered access to individuals'
medical information-without their consent. Instead of
reviewing hundreds of pages of proposed federal regulations,
journalists and television producers typically rely
on press releases from the White House and Congress.
However, on the issue of medical privacy many of those
releases have been misleading, to say the least.
User-Friendly Web Site Played Big Role
The Liberty Study Committee deserves praise for creating
an easy-to-use Web site that permitted individuals to
send comments to HHS and Congress (www.StopBigBrother.org).
Some 12,000 people used that site.
The fact that comments were received from coast to
coast shows that medical privacy is an issue that transcends
Washington. Americans from all walks of life are deeply
concerned about the potential loss of medical privacy.
Additionally, many Americans are beginning to realize
that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability
Act of 1996 (HIPAA) laid the groundwork for assigning
everyone a Unique Health Identifier, an ID number. Although
the public won't see HIPAA's final effects for another
year or so, the truth about the law is being revealed
slowly but surely.
What Happens Next with Medical Privacy?
Now that the public comment period is over (it ended February
17), we'll have to watch carefully to see what HHS, the
White House, and Congress do. Will they listen to concerned
Will they make sure the proposed federal regulations
are modified so that patient consent must be obtained
before personal medical information is shared for any
purpose? Or will they ignore the will of the people
and instead serve the interests of those who want people's
medical data, namely, researchers and government data
IHF is going to be watching this issue carefully.
In the meantime, we welcome your comments and ideas
for protecting everyone's medical privacy. [You can
share your comments with IHF at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
This article was originally published in the March/April
2000 issue of Health