Patient Advocates Critical of Bush's Final Medical Privacy Rules

The Bush administration has issued final rules designed to protect the confidentiality of computerized patient records. However, the rules offer far weaker safeguards than those sought by consumer advocates. The Clinton Administration issued more stringent rules that were to have taken effect last spring, but President Bush postponed them so that his administration could make changes requested by the health care and insurance industries.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the new federal rules include a guarantee that people may inspect their medical records and correct mistakes, find out who else has looked at them, and seek penalties against anyone who misuses the information. However, the rules omit a requirement that patients'' written permission must be obtained before their personal health information can be handled by doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and insurance plans.

Joanne Hustead, senior counsel to Georgetown University''s Health Privacy Project, said the rules "undermine patient control over private medical information" and "will erode patient trust in the health care system."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who chairs the Senate''s health committee, said that he will try to strengthen the privacy protections this fall. "Insurance companies and HMOs are given broad access to highly sensitive personal medical information," Kennedy said.

To download the American Psychiatric Association's statement on the rules, go to: http://www.psych.org/pub_pol_adv/hhs81302.pdf

To read the statement of the Health Insurance Association of America, go to: http://www.hiaa.org/news/newsitem.cfm?ContentID=19969