Liberty Place, Suite 700
325 Seventh Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004-2802
(202) 638-1100 Phone
Tuesday, April 2nd 2002
In July of 2001, you joined 163 of your House colleagues in signing a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson that called on the Administration to revise the medical privacy regulations mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In particular, the letter urged revision of those provisions that "could compromise patient care and essential hospital operations." Your goal in asking for these revisions, which we share, was to make this regulation work for patients and hospitals alike.
I am writing today to thank you for your continuing interest and advocacy on this critical issue, and to let you know that HHS has responded favorably to many of the concerns you raised.
On March 27, HHS issued a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on patient medical privacy that included many of the improvements championed in your letter. The proposed improvements would, among other things:
Eliminate barriers to care erected by the original redundant written consent requirement. As your letter stated, "scheduling patients for surgery, x-rays or other vital services should not depend on patients having to complete exhaustive privacy and consent forms, exacerbating the regulatory burden for Americans." To address this problem while ensuring that patients understand the importance of their privacy rights, HHS replaced the written consent with a written acknowledgement. Written acknowledgement will not alter patients' medical privacy rights, result in the delays in care you described in your letter or create excessive regulatory burdens for patients or hospitals. Because there is a great deal of misinformation on this topic, I have attached a copy of a series of questions and answers we compiled that explains why written acknowledgement is better, for both patients and hospitals, than written consent.
Add new protection for "incidental disclosures." The proposed rule recognizes that doctors and nurses must be able to discuss patient care among themselves and with their patients, even if their conversations are accidentally overheard. As your letter stated, "doctors and nurses must not be hindered by unclear oral communications definitions and be permitted to discuss care and treatment issues with patients."
Provide an additional year to incorporate business associate contract changes into contracts that are not currently up for renewal.
On behalf of America's hospitals and the patients we serve, we thank you for your leadership on this key issue. Patients will benefit enormously from the proposed modifications to the medical privacy rule. Because HHS responded favorably to some of the pressing concerns you championed on behalf of patients and hospitals, we also urge that you write to HHS supporting these modifications. HHS is accepting comments electronically at its web site located at http://hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa.
We look forward to working with you to make sure the HIPAA privacy rule works for patients and hospitals alike.
Executive Vive President
This letter was sent to the 164 members of the House of Representatives who last summer signed a letter supporting changes to the HIPAA privacy rule