Maine Lawmakers Poised to Pass Bill Giving Media, Public Access to Patient Records

March 23, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, March 23, 1999

PORTLAND, ME — A so-called patient privacy bill proposed by health industry lobbyists is riddled with loopholes that allow unprecedented disclosure of records to virtually anyone, including the media and the public, the Maine Civil Liberties Union said today.

In a joint statement issued by the Maine ACLU and the National Coalition for Patient Rights, the two groups are urging state lawmakers to reject L.D 1653, the revised version of the bill now under consideration by the Health and Human Services Committee of the Maine Legislature.

Barbara Shaw, president of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, said the group had initially supported the bill, but that the anti-privacy amendments proposed by health care industry lobbyists ultimately undermined the law’s original intent.

“We feel like we’re in a David versus Goliath situation here,” Shaw said. “In order to maintain their access to patient information, the media and the hospitals have undertaken a very concerted public relations effort to convince patients and their families that the confidentiality law is harmful to them.”

Shaw said current common-law protections are actually safer for health care patients in Maine than the version of the bill being proposed by health industry lobbyists, which establishes a “right to know” for almost anyone seeking access to patient records. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Allow release of patient information to family members without the patient’s knowledge or consent, neglecting the potential harm to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Grant a right of access to medical information to members of the media, the public, and any member of the clergy, without the patient’s knowledge or consent.
  • Allow release of patient information to government entities without any requirement concerning security policies or prevention of redisclosure to second or third parties.
  • Prevent virtually all attempts by a patient to bring any legal action for violations of the law.
  • Allow automatic disclosure of information to insurers and HMOs.

According to Dr. Margo Goldman, Director of Policy for the National Coalition for Patient Rights, “no other law in the country has granted this type of unauthorized access to a patient’s medical information.”

Goldman added that the bill also runs counter to the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, which states that patients should be given control over whether their information is shared with family members and others and that “when information concerning a specific patient is requested by the media, the physician must obtain the consent of the patient or an authorized representative before releasing such information.”

“In reality, the bill should be called the ‘Health Care Provider and Hospital Protection Act,'” said Sally Sutton, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “There is no justification for why a patient should have less protection from the illegal release of their medical information by a doctor or hospital, than they do by an insurance company, which is what this bill proposes.”

The groups called on the Maine Legislature takes steps to prevent the wholesale giveaway of this very sensitive information to health industry lobbyists and others. Otherwise, they said, Maine people will be harmed and there will be no way to reclaim the information and undo the damage.

The Joint Statement can be found at:
/news/1999/n032399c.html

An analysis of the proposed legislation can be found at:
/community/maine/c032299a.html

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