What's Congress Doing
About Medical Privacy?
June 21, 1999
Last winter we warned our readers that if Congress
did not pass a medical privacy law by August 21, 1999,
the secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) would
be required to establish privacy regulations by February
21, 2000. HHS would create a unique health identifier
to tag and track every American's medical records.
"HHS privacy regulations could jeopardize medical
privacy for all," warns Twila Brase, President of Citizens'
Council on Health Care. She points out that the department's
recommendations include the "public responsibility"
to allow government access to medical records without
consent for the following national priorities:
- Health-care system oversight,
- Public health,
- Medical research,
- Law enforcement,
- State health databases.
This spring, Health Freedom Watch reported
that the 1999 budget bill included a provision that
prevented funding for the unique health identifier until
Congress approved of its specifics. What is Congress
doing about medical privacy? Will HHS be permitted to
implement its recommendations?
So far, Congress has introduced at least four medical
privacy bills in the House and Senate, including:
578) Health Care Personal Information Nondisclosure
Act of 1999,
881) Medical Information Protection Act of 1999,
1057) Medical Information Privacy and Security
Whether a final bill will truly give consumers the
ability to maintain their medical privacy remains uncertain.
We will have to wait until a final bill is revised and
reported out of committee before we'll know how much
it guards Americans' medical privacy.
According to the aide to Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah)
who worked on the Bennett medical privacy bill, Congress
is expected to mark up (that is, make changes and add
amendments to) a bill on May 25. "A final bill will
probably pull pieces from the Leahy/Kennedy bill [S.573],
the Jeffords/Dodd bill [S.578]
and Bennett's bill [S.881],"
said Mike Neilson. [Note: Congress has not marked up
a bill as of June 21, 1999. The Bureau of National Affairs
reports that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee has delayed markup of a privacy bill
This article was originally published in the May/June
issue of Health Freedom Watch.