However, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson did say in the ninth paragraph of his statement that he and the department would "begin the process of issuing guidelines on how the rule should be implemented."
And therein lies the rub. We don’t know at this point whether those guidelines will deal with the flaws NewsMax.com found in examining all 1,500 pages of the document. Specifically, one of our senior editors,
Thompson said the guidelines "will allow us to clarify some of the confusion regarding the impact this rule might have on health care delivery and access. And we will consider any necessary modifications that will ensure the quality of care does not suffer inadvertently from this rule."
In discussing the future "modifications" and guidelines, Thompson puts all the emphasis on such issues as proper "access" and the "delivery of health care," having "access to necessary medical information about a patient" and things of that nature. These, of course, are legitimate concerns. But the secretary says nothing about privacy.
Only in the early paragraphs of the statement when he’s explaining why he is implementing the rules does Thompson mention privacy protection. He says, "Our citizens must not wait any longer for the protection of the most personal of all information their health records."
That seems to assume that the rules, as currently written, are being rushed out to the public to preserve the privacy of medical records. One could read the secretary’s statement and conclude he believes the problem of the privacy is a settled issue within the rule, and that it is only "access" that needs to be fixed.
Our reading, again of all 1,500 pages, indicates otherwise.
President Bush himself issued a statement saying that "for the first time, patients will have full access to their medical records and more control over how their personal information will be used and disclosed."
"This rule will help address patients’ growing concerns regarding medical privacy."
The president could get a good argument on that from Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).
When told that there will be modifications and guidelines, the doctor’s reaction was: "That’s all we need. More pages!" added to the 1,500 already there.
She told NewsMax.com that "just because the Bush administration calls this a privacy regulation does not make it one. It is anti-privacy."
Orient added that she did not understand why President Bush is taking credit for this when "all he is doing is following the policy of his predecessor, a policy that would in fact abolish privacy."
Two days ago, Orient indicated her organization would go to court over this issue on constitutional and legal grounds. When I asked if Thursday’s developments had affected her timetable, she said she was consulting a lawyer and couldn’t comment on it at the moment.
Kent Snyder of the Liberty Committee, which like NewsMax.com had circulated a petition urging the secretary to reject the new rules, observed: "Only in Washington does 13,535 equal 1. The opinions of thousands of private American citizens who expressed their specific concerns about the final medical privacy rule were ignored."
Snyder said he was told that the 13,535 signatures on that petition were counted as "merely one comment."
That apparently is the same treatment accorded the NewsMax.com petition that included more than twice as many signatures as the Liberty Committee’s.
Which raises another question: How many other thousands of citizens signed a petition to their government about their rights to privacy, only to be counted as a small part of "merely one comment"?
This is "right out of 'The Twilight Zone,' " commented Snyder.
The decision by the secretary won him some praise from left-wing Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who commended Thompson for "protecting" patients' medical records.
In fact, as John Perry has documented, the regulations do no such thing.
Chip Kahn, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, says "the privacy regulations do not provide a uniform standard and are exceedingly complex and unnecessarily costly."
HIAA is primarily concerned with cost, as any insurance company would be. But we at NewsMax.com have satisfied ourselves in spades that the rule is "exceedingly complex" and a threat to privacy to boot.
Blue Cross Blue Shield added, "Consumers lost in today’s decision not to delay the privacy regulation." Again, the cost factor figures in that comment.
According to a Reuters dispatch, HHS will gradually implement the rules, with full compliance required by April 14, 2003. "This starts the clock ticking for compliance," an HHS spokesman is quoted as saying.
But for now, HHS spokesman Tony Jewell tells NewsMax.com, "If you want to read the secretary’s final decision, just go back over those 1,500 pages" that ex-President Bill Clinton approved.
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