Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Medical privacy law delay makes sense

It is now clear that the Hawaii Legislature got ahead of itself when it tried to create valuable new privacy rights for medical patients.

As written, the law appeared to create vast new regulatory burdens and confusion in the health-care and insurance industry. The Legislature first decided to postpone implementation of the law and now appears on the verge of repealing it altogether.

It should.

The philosophy behind the law is sound and is a worthy topic for further attention from the Legislature. But the law as written was far too sweeping and, in addition, was somewhat at cross purposes with new federal medical privacy standards about to be imposed.

It makes sense to see how the federal standards work in practice, before adding additional regulatory burdens of our own.

But once the federal rules are firmly in place and local insurers and health providers are in compliance, it will be time to take another look at what might be needed at the local level.

The goal in all this is to protect the integrity of individual medical records. In an era of genetic testing and high-tech medical science, there is a growing need for privacy in such matters.

The example used is an individual who goes to his physician for genetic or other tests that might suggest whether he is at risk for rare inherited disease. This information is crucial for the person’s own health planning, but should not be arbitrarily placed in employment or insurance files.

Once the smoke clears at the federal level, then Hawaii can return to its local medical privacy laws and see what, if anything, needs to be done. And when that happens, it is crucial that the effort be focused clearly on first principals: protecting the rights of the individual.

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