HIPAA Regulatory Alert

Ohio court puts state open records law over HIPAA

The Ohio Supreme Court says the state's open records law takes precedence over HIPAA privacy requirements. The court ruled in a case brought two years ago by the Cincinnati Enquirer when it sought to compel the city health department to disclose addresses of homes and businesses ordered to remove potentially hazardous lead paint.

"Ohio has a long-standing public policy committed to open records," wrote Justice Terrence O'Donnell in the unanimous decision. "The Cincinnati Health Department and its commissioners have a clear legal duty to make the lead citations available." The department had argued that releasing the information would violate HIPAA privacy regulations because lead citations are based in part on blood tests of children.

Lawyers for the newspaper argued that the more than 300 lead citations the newspaper requested were public records that revealed a potential threat to public health.

They said the citations did not include names of children tested, Social Security numbers, or any other personal medical information. The newspaper also argued the health department, unlike hospitals and other providers, is not covered by HIPAA.

While the state open records law says a record is open unless prohibited by federal law, HIPAA says medical records are private unless state law requires them to be open. The seven Supreme Court justices decided that when the two levels of law conflict, state law should be followed.