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News Release
For Immediate Release: July 8, 1999

Medical Privacy Alert: Congress Faces August 21 Deadline

The U.S. Congress has only until August 21, 1999 to pass a medical privacy law, or regulations governing your medical privacy will be established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services by February 21, 2000. These deadlines, established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), are fast upon us.

Several bills have been introduced, but none of the bills truly protect Americans' medical privacy. "Some of the bills actually make matters worse," says Sue Blevins, president of the Institute for Health Freedom. Here's why:

  • Last Thursday, Representative Greg Ganske (R-IA) slipped a provision into the massive financial services industry bill (H.R.10) that was approved by the House. The result of this provision, according to the Los Angeles Times, is that "Individual medical records, including patients' genetic information, could be disclosed by health insurers to credit card companies and other financial institutions."
  • Senator James Jeffords (R-VT) has proposed legislation that would force individuals to waive their right to privacy as a stipulation for purchasing health insurance.
  • Legislation proposed by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) would give government agencies and biomedical researchers access to patients' records without obtaining their consent. As a result, many Americans could become research subjects without their knowledge.

It appears there is little consensus regarding the leading medical privacy bills in the Senate. Since mid-May, the Senate committee in charge of marking up a medical privacy bill has rescheduled the markup at least four times.

"If Congress fails to meet its August 21 deadline, the Clinton Administration is ready to move forward with its plan to create a unique health-identifier for every American," says Blevins. The number would be used to tag and track each person's medical information electronically. "The way we address this issue will have an enormous impact on the future of privacy and liberty," states Blevins.

For more information about medical privacy and the August 21 deadline, visit the Institute for Health Freedom's Web site at http://www.ForHealthFreedom.org.

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.