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News Release
For Immediate Release: June 8, 1999

Are We Headed For A Medical Privacy Invasion?

Congress Faces August 21 Deadline;
Mark-Up Begins June 15

Washington, D.C. -- Congress has just ten weeks to pass legislation to protect medical privacy. If not, a "solution" will be imposed through regulations by the Department of Health and Human Services.

At a discussion on medical privacy issues-sponsored by the Institute for Health Freedom (IHF)-panelists Sue Blevins, IHF; Twila Brase, Citizens' Council on Health Care; and Barbara Loe Fisher, National Vaccine Information Center unanimously agreed it was time for Congress to take decisive action. Congress begins to mark-up medical privacy bills on June 15.

According to IHF President Sue Blevins, "If Congress doesn't act, it will be acted upon [by the Department of Health and Human Services]."

Blevins noted that medical privacy is going to be one of the most important issues of the 106th Congress because, in 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which mandates passage of a medical privacy law no later than August 21 of this year. If Congress does not act by this deadline, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must promulgate regulations governing the privacy of medical records within six months.

"A growing number of Americans feel they are losing control over their medical privacy. That loss is real," stated Blevins. "Hundreds of individuals and organizations have access to a person's medical records."

A recent Congressional Research Service study reported that, according to a 1996 estimate, as many as 400 people may see a patient's medical record during the course of a hospital stay.

Blevins recommends that Congress change the federal tax law for health insurance to better protect medical privacy. That way, if a worker does not want to give his employer carte blanche access to his medical records, he can buy health insurance on his own without paying higher taxes.

"Employers don't choose and sign contracts for their workers' automobile, personal property, and fire insurance, but they do choose their workers' health insurance," said Blevins. "Employers don't read their workers' home and automobile repair records, but do review their workers' health insurance claims. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune."

Based in Washington, D.C., the Institute for Health Freedom is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center providing a forum for exchanging ideas about health freedom. The Institute works with scholars and policy experts in the areas of economics, health care, law, philosophy, and the sciences to foster public debate.