Mayo backs changes in medical privacy law

Legislation would relax rules written under Clinton

By Angela Greiling Keane

WASHINGTON -- Mayo Clinic is pleased with changes in medical records privacy rules that the Bush administration proposed last month, the Mayo Foundation's Washington lobbyist said Wednesday.

"We were actually very supportive of the changes," Kelly said.


Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced in late March that the administration was proposing to relax medical records privacy rules written under the Clinton administration.

Kelly said Mayo was most pleased with the meat-and-potatoes part of the proposed changes: scaling back regulations that would have required prior written consent for everyday medical tasks such as appointment scheduling and billing.

"In particular, the big issue was the requirement of prior written consent for treatment, payment and health-care operations," Kelly said. "We actually were very strong advocates for eliminating the requirement for prior written consent for those limited operations."

Not everyone is enamored with the changes.

A group of privacy advocates said Tuesday the changes would hamper patients' privacy rights.

The activists, who spoke at the National Press Club, said the Clinton rules did not go far enough to protect patients and said the proposed changes would be detrimental to those who wish to keep their medical records confidential.

"Privacy is absolutely essential to quality health care," said Jim Pyles, a Washington attorney who represents health care providers.

The proposed changes, for which a public comment period is open until April 26, generally please hospitals, insurance companies and medical researchers. The rules reduce the number of consent forms that would be required for them to gain access to records for purposes including billing and medical research.


Consumer groups, conversely, have spoken out against the changes, saying they jeopardize individuals' rights.

Hospitals, physicians, insurance companies and others subject to the rules have until April 2003 to comply with them, in whatever form they end up. Although the federal government issued them last year, it allowed two years for companies to come into compliance.

The rules apply only to records stored electronically, not to those on paper.

Most health-care providers, including Mayo Clinic, have traditionally kept records on paper, but the trend is to change to electronic forms. Rochester's Mayo Clinic is in the process of switching to electronic records, but many are still kept on paper.

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