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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Proposed bills would restrict access to medical records

By Jonathan Aiken/CNN

April 27, 1999
Web posted at: 1:33 p.m. EDT (1733 GMT)

WASHINGTON (April 27) -- As more patients are learning, often the hard way, 'confidential' does not necessarily mean confidential when it comes to medical records. But new congressional legislation may make it tougher for prying eyes to look at private medical information.

Take Stephen Bridges. He is HIV positive, something he wanted kept secret when he was diagnosed 15 years ago. But a staff worker in his doctors' office read Bridges' file, sharing his secret with a group of mutual friends.

Medical records

Stories like that -- and cases of prospective employers learning a person's medical history -- are among the reasons three bills have been introduced in Congress to ensure the privacy of a patient's medical records.

"This bill means that your medical records will be kept more confidential than they are now, fewer people will have access to them than they have now but you will have access to them which you may not have now," said Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), the chief sponsor of the "The Medical Information Protection Act of 1999."

In general, the bills would limit access to a patients' medical records to health care providers, insurers, and in some cases, employers.

Currently no federal law restricts the flow of this kind of information.

Another privacy issue begins with a patient's prescription.

Once Bridges got his prescriptions filled, he started getting mail from drug makers offering different treatments -- and a variety of other solicitations.

All three proposals would keep personal information out of the hands of marketing companies.

The measures also address the legitimate needs of medical researchers who need access to patient data in order to conduct their studies, while insuring a patient's privacy.

Legislation passed three years ago gave Congress until this August to come up with privacy guidelines. If Congress doesn't act by then the Clinton Adminstration is required by law to create its own proposals and enact them by executive order.

Medical Information Privacy and Security Act
• Introduced in the Senate: [S.573.IS]
• Introduced in the House: [H.R.1057.IH]


Gore announces steps toward an electronic bill of rights (7-31-98)

Rx for Medical Privacy (9-3-97)

New federal law on patient privacy proposed (8-10-97)


Department of Health and Human Services

House of Representatives



Tuesday, April 27, 1999

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