Your New Rights to Medical Privacy
Your medical records have new protection under a bill that took nearly full effect* in April of this year.
The "Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996" (HIPAA) sets the first-ever federal standards to protect patientsí medical records and other health information possessed by health plans, doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health care entities. Beginning on April 14, 2003, all except certain small health plans were required to begin complying.
Under the new standards, you have more control over how your health information is used and to whom it is disclosed.
The act provides the minimum standards these entities must meet, but states may set higher standards if they choose. And unlike many regulations, these apply both to private industry and government.
You. Patients must be able to view, get copies of, and request corrections to their medical records. Providers may charge for copying and mailing the records.
Law enforcement agencies and certain other governmental organizations such as the Secret Service. (Those agencies have always had such access.)
All doctors and related entities involved in your care.
They must establish written procedures to protect the confidentiality of their patientsí health information.
They must provide a notice to you telling how they may use your health information, and what your rights are under the law.
They must tell you if they want to release your information to a life insurer, a bank, a marketing firm or other outside business for purposes not related to your health care. They must request your written authorization, and you have to right to refuse.
You may file a formal complaint either directly to the non-complying entity, or to the federal Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (see below).
It does, if it is enforced: There are civil and criminal penalties for misuse of your health information, up to $250,000 and ten years in prison.
(1) Toll-free at 866-627-7748, (2) Online at www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa, and (3) By mail at U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 200 Independence Avenue S.W., Washington, DC 20201.
* Some small health plans have until April of 2004 to comply.
W. A. Shapiro