Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan, 5763
Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak
It's always something!
New federal "privacy" regulations governing your medical records went into
Why more regulations?
Federal government officials wrote them to implement HIPAA.
What's a HIPAA?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HR
3103). Congress ostensibly created HIPAA to impose "administrative
simplification" on the health care professions and to benefit insurance
companies by standardizing insurance forms and procedures.
Why the fuss?
These so-called "privacy" regulations actually eliminate patient
consent for disclosure of your medical records. "While masquerading as
patient protection, the rules would actually eliminate any last shred of
confidentiality and risk lives," said Kathryn A. Serkes, Public Affairs
Counsel for The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
Will I notice anything different the next time I see my own doctor?
You might notice that your doctor isn't there. Some doctors have found
it impossible to maintain their practice at the same time as spending the
time and money to comply with the HIPAA regulations. They have closed
If your doctor is still in business, you will be asked to read, understand
and sign at least eight pages of new forms. These forms will officially
allow your doctor, insurance companies and government agencies to "use and
disclose" your medical information for medical treatment, claims to
insurance carriers and for government "health care operations."
What if I don't sign all these new forms?
The government could prevent your doctor from treating you. Even
without your permission, the new rules require that your doctor and
hospital give much of your medical information to government agencies.
The new government security rules for medical information will protect
my medical privacy, won't they?
Maybe, but only after another two years goes by, when these new
security rules take effect. The government also needs to get around to
making sure that access to patient Medicare records and computerized
information is limited to authorized people; at this time, some existing
government databases, such as Medicare, aren't secure.
Even under these security rules, government officials claiming an
undefined "national priority" purpose, or engaged in "health care
operations" or "health oversight activities" can look at your medical
information without your consent or knowledge.
Can anybody else look at my records?
Under some conditions, law enforcement, insurance employees and even
marketers can use your records and information. At the same time, your
doctors will have to be very careful when they discuss your medical
condition lest the government accuse them of illegal communication, even
if it's for your benefit.
Will this cost me anything?
Of course. Somebody has to pay for all the extra training, paperwork,
computers and software. And that somebody is you, as a taxpayer and/or
patient. The bureaucrats claim that insurance industry savings will
balance these expenses. But in almost all cases, the costs of laws and
regulations are grossly underestimated and the benefits and payoffs
Those who've decided to do without health insurance will be paying more
even though there's not any possible benefit for them.
Why should I care if the government can look at my records?
You might not, but many people don't want their medical history open to
federal government officials. In an AAPS survey of doctors, 87 percent
have been asked by patients to lie or keep information out of their
Rep. Ron Paul, M.D., R-Texas, noted a Gallup survey which found that "92 percent
of the people oppose allowing government agencies the unrestrained power
to view private medical records."
Is anything being done about this HIPAA?
Several groups are suing the federal government to preserve your
rights. In addition, Rep. Paul introduced the Patient Privacy Act, H.R.
1699, in the U.S. Congress just last week. We suggest you immediately tell
your representatives to support H.R. 1699.
What can I do to protect my rights?
For your personal privacy, find out if your physician is, or intends to
become, "HIPAA-compliant." If so, recommend that he pursue the "Country Doctor
Escape Route" outlined by AAPS.
So, when you least expect it in your doctor's office, don't be surprised
if your doctor tells you: "You have the right to remain silent. Anything
you say can and will be used against you."
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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who
comments on medical- legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is past
president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists.
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