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ACTION ALERT! TELL SENATE NOT TO DESTROY PATIENT CONFIDENTIALITY

Physicians: Please post this notice in your office and make copies for your patients. Both patients and physicians should telephone their Senators today!

The so-called “Health Care Personal Information Nondisclosure Act” (S. 578), introduced by Senator Jeffords (R-VT), is being marked up today in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

The bill should be called the “Governmental Access to All Medical Information Act.”

The Congress is rushing to meet a self-imposed deadline of August, 1999, to pass a law “protecting” patient records-or else Secretary Shalala will write the law. (This is a feature of the notorious Kennedy-Kassebaum “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.”)

What Congress needs to do is pass a bill delaying that deadline for at least two years-and to defeat the Jeffords bill and all others on this subject.

Some of the worst features of the bill are as follows:

  • It “finds” that the public's (the government's) “need” to medical records outweighs the patient's “right” to confidentiality (which is therefore not a right at all).
  • Any health or life insurer, “health oversight agency,” employee welfare benefits plan, law enforcement agency, or health researcher would gain broad authority to obtain personal medical data.
  • No one would be allowed to buy insurance or obtain a medical service without signing “consent” to the disclosure of personal medical information for any of the very broad purposes defined by the law (such as “health operations” or “health oversight”).
  • Law enforcers would be allowed to obtain personal medical records to inquire into “a violation of, or failure to comply with, any criminal or civil statute or any regulation, rule, or order issued pursuant to such a statute.”
  • Law enforcement officers would be shielded from personal liability for violations of the Act.
  • States could not pass laws protecting medical privacy after this Act went into effect.
While the bill has long prison sentences and heavy fines for persons not in the privileged groups above (mainly doctors, hospitals, and others providing actual medical care), it is not clear what protection it actually offers patients.

Call your Senators today. The Capitol switchboard: (202)224-3121. The message: oppose the Jeffords bill; support a delay in the deadline.

Then write a personally typed or handwritten message making one or more of the points above. Send to The Hon. [your Senator's name], U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.

For more detailed analysis, click here.