AHIMA blasts Congress’ failure to pass privacy bill

Representatives of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), a Chicago-based association of medical record and health information management professionals, have voiced their distress over Congress’ inability to meet the Aug. 21 deadline for passing confidentiality legislation.

"This is not Congress’ finest hour," said AHIMA executive vice president and CEO Linda L. Kloss, RRA. "Still, we’re encouraged by the fact that several members have introduced substantive legis lation and are sincere in their desire to protect patients and their information."

Congress was on recess until Sept. 7, and a "mark-up" on Senate medical privacy legislation — in which members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee would offer amendments to a "chairman’s mark" that combines language from three proposed bills — was not expected until after Labor Day at the earliest.

It was Congress, as part of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), that self-imposed the mandate to pass confidentiality legislation by Aug. 21 of this year.

According to HIPAA, if Congress missed the deadline, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would be required to step in and develop confidentiality regulations.

"Even though the deadline has passed, Con gress is expected to continue pursuing confidentiality legislation," Kloss said. "We hope that as Congress moves forward, members will bypass the partisan issues that have been so divisive and at least pass legislation this year."

AHIMA has called for confidentiality legis lation that includes these provisions:

• preemption of state confidentiality laws with a single, stringent national standard;

• the use of health information for lawful purposes only and civil and criminal penalties for breaking the law;

• the ability of patients to access their records;

• disclosure of confidentiality policies by health care organizations;

• the requirement that health care organizations have substantive information security policies in place.

Disagreement on some of those issues, as well as on whether an individual would be able to sue a party that violated his or her confidentiality, has stalled legislative progress on a bill, says Kathleen Frawley, JD, MS, RRA, AHIMA’s vice president for legislative and public policy services.