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Letter: Privacy rule malfunction endangers young patients

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of Daily Journal.

David A. Fishel


To the editor:

Recently my wife and I took our daughter to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to see if they can figure out what is causing her illness and how to either treat this or cure the issue.

While she was receiving diagnostic testing and counseling from the doctors at Mayo, we (her parents) hit a “medical loophole” which is not only annoying but also downright dangerous. Please allow me a moment to explain this tangled mess.

Our daughter is 15 years old. She will turn 16 in December. She is caught up in a part of the new health care law that is supposed to “protect” her privacy. We all know this as the HIPPA regulations. Each time we visit a doctor’s office, medical clinic or hospital we sign about understanding “our HIPPA privacy rights” and how that specific institution or office interprets and applies the rules governing them.

A new glitch has been added which creates a legal nightmare for the physicians, clinics and hospitals that are doing their best to keep up and satisfy everyone. The new federal government HIPPA regulations that are being enacted and have begun appearing in various medical locations have a major gap included in them. I’m not really interested in the politics of this mess at this point in time; don’t begin thinking that I am some zealot out to change everything — I am not — I am bringing attention to a very serious issue.

Under new regulations, our daughter is considered to be an “adult medical patient,” and her HIPPA rights are enacted to protect her privacy on medical records. However, those same new federal HIPPA regulations do not affect or change the state laws and regulations governing the age of a minor child. In other words, they do not change the minimum age required by each state for who is responsible for authorizing treatments of a minor-child or medical record release of a minor child. That authorization age limit still remains solidly at 18 years of age or older in each of the 50 United States.

There within sits the problem; the new federal HIPPA regulations state that a “child between the age of 12 years old and the age of 17 years old” is considered as an adult. Under the new HIPPA act, their records, medical data, appointments, test results, etc., etc. may not be given out to parents or caregivers of children (patients) between 12 and 17 years of age, without the patient’s (child’s) authorization. Once again however, the laws of the state require the person signing the authorization has to be 18 years of age or older.

In short, the federal government (new HIPPA regulations) is telling the state government that a child between 12 and 17 must be considered an adult patient only for HIPPA privacy coverage.

At the same time the new HIPPA regulations are saying to the state that it is OK to consider a child between 12 and 17 a minor and therefore unable to authorize the release of their own HIPPA-regulated medical record information.

The new regulations create the situation where our daughter is too young, under the state regulations, to sign any authorization forms releasing her HIPPA-governed information. At the same time, the new federal regulations mandate that she be considered as an adult patient for HIPPA governed information, while also mandating she and only she can sign said authorization forms to release the information.

Our daughter’s medical records will sit in storage at the Mayo Clinic until she is 18 years old, and then they can be released with her signature.

This is preposterous. As parents, we all should have the right to access information on our child’s medical records. While I believe in and agree that HIPPA privacy rights should be defended fully, I believe that “an adult” is someone over the age of 18 years, not a child between the ages of 12 and 17.

These new regulations do not benefit anyone; instead they place a huge roadblock directly in the path of parents seeking to get better treatment for their sick child. They also place an unnecessary burden onto the medical administrators who have to deal with confused, angry and irate parents unable to gain access to their child’s information. This is vital information that a child’s parents require access to for planning and decision-making. Not only do the parents deserve this –- they need it.

Please, I am asking you to take a few precious moments and contact your local, state and federal representatives; let them know how this truly is adversely affecting our children. The federal government needs to allow an adult to make decisions for the child in these situations.

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