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CU urges Bush Administration not to postpone or weaken medical privacy rules

March 29, 2001


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Frank Torres, Legislative Counsel for Consumers Union, made the following statement as the Bush administration considers postponing or weakening medical privacy rules proposed by the Clinton administration. Torres made the statement as he prepared to submit formal comments to the Department of Health and Human Services about the privacy rules:
“Medical records should be kept confidential, yet they routinely wind up in the hands of marketing firms, employers, and others without the patient’s permission. If people can’t go to the doctor and be confident that their privacy will be protected, they may withhold information from their doctor or they may not seek treatment at all. As a patient, you should be the one who decides whether your medical records are handed over to people who aren’t involved in your care. Medical information is much more sensitive than the typical information that companies collect about consumers, and companies should respect it as such.
“That’s why consumers need these medical privacy rules that are scheduled to take effect on April 14 . These rules don’t provide all of the privacy protections that consumers need, but they do limit the use of private information without consent. The rules also say that patients have the right to know who’s looking at their records and the right to see and correct their records.
“There are some in the healthcare industry who profit from the sharing of medical records, and these are the main critics who are trying to block the rules. They are using scare tactics and exaggerations so they can keep things the way they are. They say they can’t be burdened with helping consumers protect their own medical records, yet these critics go out of their way to help companies obtain the same information.
“Consumers have waited long enough for federal rules to protect their medical records. But the Bush administration chose to take advantage of a technicality to reopen these rules for consideration. Now our concern is that behind-the-scenes deals are being cut that could leave the public with little or no privacy. If the Bush administration is truly committed to privacy, it should let these rules take effect. To do otherwise signals that they are just paying lip service to this issue and, once again, the American public loses out to the special interests.”

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.
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