I admit to a certain level of ignorance about medical records. It has been more than a decade that I represented doctors in their medical practices and hospital staffing privileges. So I admittedly have not kept up with all the changes. And even though I had a couple of surgeries last year I didn’t pay close attention to the Notice of Privacy Practices that I signed before the surgeries.
I visited another doctor last week and had time to actually read the privacy notice.
My blood pressure soared.
The catalyst for that rise in blood pressure was what I read:
USES AND DISCLOSURES FOR OTHER REASONS WITHOUT PERMISSION [Emphasis mine]:. . .uses or disclosures for specialized government functions, such as for the protection of the President or high ranking government officials; for lawful national intelligence activities; for military purposes; or for the evaluation and health of members of the Foreign Service. . .
I am not a member of the Foreign Service so that’s fine. If you’re employed by the U.S. State Department working in the foreign service and you want to authorize the release of your medical records without your direct permission, have it, fools.
However, where does this *()#N!_N#)@+)_!@ federal government get off thinking that just because I visit a private physician I should grant the government unfettered access to my medical records?
I challenge anyone to give me a limiting definition of the following phrases contained in that HIPPA form above, such as
- protection of the president? Seriously? If you think I’m a threat, get a warrant. I think the 4th Amendment still exists, but maybe I better go check again. Yep, it’s still right there in the Constitution.
- protection of “high ranking government officials” How high? Who? Why? What government? Good grief this is so broad you could drive two or three eighteen-wheelers and a Greyhound bus through this loophole. Not one “high ranking government official” needs anything from my medical records for any reason whatsoever. Get a warrant, Stasi thugs. Yes, I called them Stasi thugs. Check that 4th Amendment again. Still there.
- lawful national security activities? At least they don’t ask for when conducting unlawful national security issues. Again, if I’m a national security threat, get a warrant.
- for military purposes? What if I’m not in the military? What if I’ve left the military? The overreach in the language is astonishing.
The Department of Health & Human Services affirms that authorization is not required to obtain these records pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191, was enacted on August 21, 1996:
Essential Government Functions. An authorization is not required to use or disclose protected health information for certain essential government functions. Such functions include: assuring proper execution of a military mission, conducting intelligence and national security activities that are authorized by law, providing protective services to the President, making medical suitability determinations for U.S. State Department employees, protecting the health and safety of inmates or employees in a correctional institution, and determining eligibility for or conducting enrollment in certain government benefit programs.
Apparently, the government, just by claiming you’re a suspect, can gain access to your medical records, whether or not there’s any probable cause to actually believe you’re a suspect in a crime. And, of course, everyone’s favorite, the Patriot Act, gives the government access to your records, too.
The ACLU has a good refresher on the HIPAA rules and how they are used and can be misused. I suggest you read it closely.
Slowly but surely, in every conceivable way, Americans continue to lose a little liberty, a little privacy, here and there. We are the proverbial frogs in the pot of water beginning to boil.