News brief

Privacy rules delayed, reopened for comment

AHA calls them too costly, cumbersome

Controversial new federal privacy rules were reopened for public comment and the effective date was delayed until April 14. The rules, which stem from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, were issued in December but did not undergo the 60-day congressional review period as required by the Congressional Review Act.

The American Hospital Association and other critics of the new medical privacy rules have said the rules are prohibitively expensive and would require new information systems and personnel. Because they cover only "standard transactions" related to information that is transmitted for medical claims, some types of employee health information would not be covered.

The American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine support the privacy regulations, but have asked for the rules to cover employee health information.

In a statement, Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services, said the department will review comments to determine if changes are needed. "[It] creates an opportunity to ensure that the provisions of this final rule will indeed work as intended throughout the complex field of health care, without creating unanticipated consequences that might harm patients’ access to care or the quality of that care."