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HIPPA: Is The Warranty Any Good?
Story Number is : 043004110
Hospital Newspaper

Madison Avenue is marvelous at spinning warranties as a tremendous benefit that companies provide to their customers. Sometimes a warranty can be just that: a real bonus. In other situations, however, a warranty actually serves to limit legal rights that a customer might otherwise possess.

Is the same true of HIPPA?
We have been hearing about HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) for years. HIPPA was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread: real privacy protection for patients, with enforcement teeth. A whole industry has grown up around HIPPA compliance. Providers have spent countless hours and dollars making sure that patient confidentiality would be respected in accordance with the Act. And now this!

Incredibly, the U.S. Justice Department (in litigation by physicians challenging the constitutionality of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act) have subpoenaed hospital medical records relating to abortions and have cited HIPPA as its legal authority for obtaining said medical records.

Hospital and other providers are now put between a rock and a hard place. If they disclose patient records, are they violating HIPPA and patient confidentiality? If they do not, are they violating valid government subpoenas? So far, the lower courts are coming to different conclusions .

If the government prevails, the providers become custodians of medical records that can be mined by the government.

Although not involved in the lawsuits directly, hospitals around the country are employing substantial resources to split the baby: give the government redacted medical records without specific patient identifiers.

Will that be enough? Or will HIPPA become a warranty that not only does not protect patient confidentiality, but in fact become a disclosure weapon?

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