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President Allows Implementation of Patient Privacy Rule

President Allows Implementation of Patient Privacy Rule

WASHINGTON—President Bush has allowed the patient privacy rule written by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the waning days of the Clinton Administration to become effective. However, he directed the department to review the regulation and recommend modifications to address some concerns raised in comments from the public.

"I recognize that legitimate concerns have been raised about the current rule, which I share, such as parents’ concern that the rule limits their right to have access to their children’s medical records," the President said in announcing his decision. "I have asked Secretary [Tommy] Thompson to recommend appropriate modifications to the rule to address these concerns and to ensure that patients receive the highest quality health care."

Secretary Thompson said that HHS would move immediately to begin the implementation process for the privacy rule and to issue guidelines for putting it in place. "The guidelines will allow us to clarify some of the confusion regarding the impact this rule might have on health care delivery and access," he said. "And we will consider any necessary modifications that will ensure the quality of care does not suffer inadvertently from this rule."

HHS proposed the complicated privacy rule under a law that required it to do so if Congress did not pass patient privacy legislation by Aug. 21, 1999. When he took office, President Bush ordered a review of the privacy rule and many other regulations approved by the outgoing Administration.

The new rule encompasses all personal health information, including paper records, oral communications, and electronic information, about people who are insured privately, uninsured, or covered by public programs such as Medicare.

However, Congress exempted other groups with access to health information, such as life insurers and workers’ compensation programs, from the regulations. This allows them to use and reuse patient information without prior consent.

HHS received more than 24,000 public comments on the rule after its final version was published in November 2000. After the President ordered a further review, department staff met with what Secretary Thompson called "a broad and diverse group of lawmakers, interest groups, health care leaders, and individual citizens regarding the patient privacy rule."

He said that to address some of the concerns raised in the public comments, HHS will make clear, through either guidelines or recommended modifications, that:

 Doctors and hospitals may have access to any medical information about patients needed to treat them, and attending physicians will be able to consult with other physicians and specialists regarding a patient’s care.

"Certainly, patients want their doctors to make the most informed decisions possible about their care and treatment," the Secretary said.

 Patients should receive timely and efficient medical treatments, and confusing requirements surrounding consent forms should not interfere with their care.

 Parents will have access to information about the health and well being of their children, including information about mental health, substance abuse, or abortion.

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