Rep. Kennedy plans to introduce health records privacy bill

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Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) plans to introduce legislation that fills the holes in existing laws that protect the privacy of Americans’ health records.

“We need a strong privacy law that covers everyone who has access” to individuals’ health records, Kennedy said at a Capitol Hill press conference last week. An aide said Kennedy wants to introduce the bill, to be called the Electronic Health Information Privacy Act, in May.

At the press conference, a coalition of 26 national organizations urged the House to include privacy protections in health information technology legislation now under consideration. The organizations, which span the political spectrum, wrote to House leaders urging them to support “a patient-centered system with patient privacy rights at the core of the health IT system.” Deborah Peel, a Texas psychiatrist who heads the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, said none of the health IT bills pending in Congress provides adequate privacy protections. Peel and representatives from the other organizations said they favored adoption of health IT as long as privacy protections are designed into the systems from the start. They cannot be retrofitted into systems designed without strong protections, Peel said.

The organizations say that employers should not be able to access medical records, patients should have a right to consent to sharing their records, patients should be allowed to opt out of health information networks, and privacy protections should be more strongly enforced and privacy violations must be punished.