- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Doctors and hospitals could disclose private information about patients and provide medical services without prior consent under proposed Bush administration revisions to Clinton-era patient-privacy rules.
Privacy advocates protested that the administration is stripping out a core element of the privacy rules. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, promised hearings and legislation to reinstate the mandatory consent forms.
"The administration has come down on the side of major health corporations at the expense of individuals," Mr. Kennedy charged yesterday from the Senate floor.
The changes would also give parents greater access to their children's medical records.
Years in the making, the privacy rules are scheduled to take effect in April 2003. They offer the first comprehensive federal protections for health privacy and apply to nearly every patient, doctor, hospital, insurance plan and pharmacy in the nation.
The rules prohibit health care providers from disclosing patient information for reasons unrelated to health services and establish civil and criminal penalties for violators. They give patients the right to inspect and copy their records and to ask for corrections.
Last year, the Bush administration allowed the rules developed under President Clinton to go forward, but promised a variety of changes to make them more workable. The changes were announced Thursday.
"These are common-sense revisions that eliminate serious obstacles to patients getting needed care and services quickly while continuing to protect patients' privacy," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a statement.
Health-care providers welcomed many of the changes, including the scrapping of consent forms. They also were pleased that the revisions make clear that incidental disclosures of private information are permitted, such as a conversation at a hospital nurses' stand or names listed on a sign-in sheet at a doctor's office.
Privacy advocates were unhappy about the consent forms and the elimination of some privacy rights for minors, including teen-agers who may seek abortions, drug treatment or other medical care.

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