Monday February 5 9:58 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) - A group of 39 health industry organizations is asking the federal government to postpone patient privacy rules written by the Clinton administration, arguing they will hinder those who need medicine quickly.
The new regulations, which will take effect two years after they become policy on Feb. 26, are meant to keep patient information from being distributed without consent.
But in a letter sent to Health and Human Services (news - web sites) Secretary Tommy Thompson on Monday, the health groups called the rules disruptive and suggested the health care industry would be severely slowed. The letter asks Thompson to delay the rules beyond Feb. 26.
"There is clearly a need for a new public comment period on these regulations," said Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, which represents the groups. "It is essential we protect the privacy of patients and equally essential that we place no regulatory barriers in the way of health care professionals."
Thompson's office declined to comment on the letter.
Among the groups that signed the letter were the American Pharmaceutical Organization, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
Under the regulations, which were passed during President Clinton (news - web sites)'s final days in office, patients could sign a one-time consent form on their first visit to a doctor allowing disclosures for routine matters like billing and treatment. But they would have to explicitly authorize most other uses of their records.
And employers will be barred from perusing medical information about their workers unless it's directly related to providing health care.
The health care groups signing the letter argue the rules will prevent doctors from getting refills for their patients in a timely manner because they will have to go through the extra step of filing consent forms with their pharmacies.
"With over three billion prescriptions filled in the United States last year, disruptions in even a small percentage of these transactions could adversely impact millions of patients," Grealy said.
On the Net:
Health and Human
Services fact sheet: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2000pres/00fsprivacy.html