President Bill Clinton on Wednesday will release the first federal rules to safeguard medical records privacy in a bid to curtail the release or sale of such data by health insurers and other entities.
The regulations will give consumers more control over their health information, set boundaries on medical record use and release; ensure the security of personal health information; and punish groups that release medical records without patients' permission, the White House said in a statement.
The administration said the new regulations, which come one month to the day before Clinton leaves office, will apply to health insurers, and nearly all health care providers and represent "a critical step towards protecting patient privacy."
But the US Congress needs to pass legislation to widen these protections, which will be fully implemented within two years, the statement said.
Republican President-elect George W. Bush has not opposed the standards, but it was unclear what he and the Republican-held US Congress would do.
The new regulations will require health plans and doctors to inform patients how and to whom records are disclosed, and provide at patients' request a "disclosure history" of entities that received such information.
Employers will not be able to access employee records for employment or other purposes not related to health care without consent.
Doctors and hospitals will have to obtain written consent to use their health information even for routine purposes, such as treatment and payment, while patients will be empowered to see their records and request correction of potentially harmful errors.
The new protections will cover personal medical information in all forms, including paper records and oral communications, and create new criminal penalties for intentional disclosure -- punishing disclosure with intent to sell with a fine of up to 250,000 dollars and up to 10 years in prison -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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