Commentary

The Medical Privacy Scam:
Big Brother Still Wants Your Medical Records

Dawn Richardson


On Oct. 29, 1999, President Clinton announced U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna E. Shalala's proposed rules which claim to protect the privacy of Americans' personal health records that are either transmitted or maintained electronically. These rules were published in the Federal Register on November 3.

America is being scammed by HHS-initiated press releases into thinking that these proposed rules, if adopted, will keep us in control of our intimate medical details. While HHS's rules spell out clear regulatory restrictions for how doctors and health plans use our personal medical data, they also dangerously grant federal, state, and local government health bureaucrats broad unrestricted access and control of our private medical information without our consent for anything that can be linked to the self-defined "national priority purposes" of research, public health, government health data systems, law enforcement and oversight of the health care system. (See Summary at http://aspe.hhs.gov/admnsimp/pvcsumm.htm).

The section of greatest concern in the rules is "uses and disclosures permitted without individual authorization." Unconsented disclosures are rationalized for "public health surveillance, investigations and interventions." Immunization and cancer registries are also cited as beneficiaries of this governmental information grab. HHS states in the rules, "We considered requiring individual authorization for certain public health disclosures, but rejected this approach because many important public health activities would not be possible if individual authorization were required."

Specific government agencies listed as being granted access to individual identifiable medical records under the pretext of "oversight" include "State insurance commissions, State health professional licensure agencies, Offices of Inspectors General of federal agencies, the Department of Justice, State Medicaid fraud control units, Defense Criminal Investigative Services, the Pension and Welfare Benefit Administration, the HHS Office for Civil Rights, the FDA, the Social Security Administration, the Department of Education, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Environ-mental Protection Agency."

HHS also proposes "to permit covered entities to disclose protected health information to a law enforcement official without individual authorization for the conduct of lawful intelligence activities."

HHS will accept public comment on the proposed rules for 60 days from the publication date of November 3. Public comments can be submitted electronically to http://aspe.hhs.gov/admnsimp/ and all 631 pages of the proposed rules are posted at this same location. We are working on our formal comments/objections to the proposed rules and will be distributing them to our e-mail lists and posting them on our website for reference soon.

Ms. Richardson is the president of Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education (PROVE). E-mail: prove@vaccineinfo.net. Website: http://vaccineinfo.net.

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 2000;5(1):21. Copyright©2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)