Trade Groups Scrutinizing Medical Privacy Provisions

May 17, 2002
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LANSING — While generally supportive of the notion, health care and physician trade groups are waiting for details before they take definitive stands on a proposal to strengthen state laws covering private medical records.

 

Attorney General Jennifer Granholm this month offered model language for future legislation to better protect the confidentiality of medical records. Her draft proposal would extend to other health care providers the existing laws requiring physicians and licensed medical care facilities to maintain the confidentiality of patients' records.

The proposal, which excludes the transfer of medical records for patient referrals, would allow the attorney general to seek a civil fine of $5,000 for each violation by health care providers that disclose, sell or transfer medical records without the express consent of the patient. It would also make a willful violation a felony.

The language is intended to serve "as the framework for a new standard in medical privacy in this state," Granholm said.

"A medical record is like a fingerprint. There is no information more intimate or more personal," she said. "Michigan residents should have the express right to expect that information be kept private, protected from the unwanted eyes of strangers or employers or marketers or government."

The Michigan State Medical Society, for one, agrees.

The society, representing more than 14,500 physicians statewide, has long supported efforts to keep medical records private, spokesman David Fox said.

"Patient privacy has always been the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship," Fox said. "It's imperative that there be patient confidentiality and privacy."

The Medical Society hopes to work with the attorney general to refine the proposal before it is introduced in the Legislature. One concern is that the final wording not impose requirements that prove too burdensome for physicians and begin interfering with patient care, Fox said.

"We'd like it so it doesn't get overly done or overly regulated," he said.

The Michigan Health and Hospital Association also backs the idea of tightening state laws governing medical records, although it has questions about Granholm's proposal.

One concern is that any legislation does not interfere with the forwarding of records to health insurers so care providers can receive payment for service. There's also a concern about potential conflicts or redundancies with new federal regulations unveiled in late December governing medical records, said David Fox, the association's director of communications.

The association, representing 145 non-profit hospitals and health systems in Michigan, right now is non-committal one way or the other on Granholm's proposal, preferring to wait until it sees more details.

"Some of the concepts are certainly supportable, but there are more questions than answers," Fox said. "It lacks details to really give it a thumbs up or thumbs down."

Granholm's proposal also would guarantee patients the right to access their medical record "in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost."

The act would:

  • Provide safeguards on health care information in all forms, including electronic.

  • Provide access for patients to their health care records in a timely and reasonable manner.

  • Provide patients a chance to correct errors in their medical records.

  • Require health care providers to retain records for a defined period, even if they stop practicing or go out of business.

  • Prohibit the use of blanket form releases for health care information.

  • Close loopholes in proposed federal regulations on health information privacy and eliminate marketing exceptions within those federal rules.

  • Provide penalties for violations and make it a felony to knowingly or fraudulently disclose or conceal health care information for financial gain.

  • Allow patients to bring suit for damages caused by violations.

The proposal was offered as a way to start the debate on legislation that the attorney general hopes to see introduced this year in the Legislature, spokesman Chris De Witt said. He expects the proposal to undergo changes before it's forwarded to lawmakers.

"This is just the starting point in the process," De Witt said.               

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