NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Proposed Regulations On Medical Privacy

January 25, 2000

Regulations on medical privacy have been proposed by the Clinton administration, and are open for comment until February 17. The regulations are limited to electronically stored information, but that is a growing proportion of all records.

The regulations "eschew the libertarian philosophy that information about us is our property and so we must consent for each specific use, secondary use and sale to a third party," says Amitai Etzioni, who approves of the new regulations.

"Instead, the suggested regulations rely on the government to protect us."

  • Personal medical information could be shared with health care professionals and insurers, but not employers, banks, marketers and others.
  • The regulations call for releasing only the minimally needed information, rather than the whole record.
  • An unintended violation would bring a $25,000 penalty, a willful violation $50,000 and potentially a year in jail.
  • Someone attempting to sell information for "commercial advantage, personal gain or malicious harm" could be hit with a $250,000 fine and a 10 year prison term.

Critics have raised complaints about one feature of the proposed regulations. Patients will be allowed to see their medical records and demand that their doctors correct the records if the patients believe the information is wrong. Critics believe that feature of the regulations could cost $4 billion over five years. One suggestion to soften the regulations is to allow patients to add their own notes to the file without forcing doctors to change theirs.

Source: Amitai Etzioni, "Our Medical Records Are About To Get More Privacy," USA Today, January 25, 2000.


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