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Protect Your Family's Medical Information Privacy

Your Health Privacy

Health Privacy is a Myth

If you, like most reasonable people, think your personal health information is private—it's not. Just because you signed a privacy notice at your doctor's office or somewhere else does not guarantee that your information is protected from prying eyes.

What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

Your rights to govern your personal health information were eliminated in 2003 when the "privacy rule" became the "disclosure rule." Initially, HIPAA required that healthcare providers “obtain the individual's consent prior to using or disclosing protected health information to carry out treatment, payment or healthcare operation.” In 2002, one year prior to HIPAA going into full effect, the Department of Health and Human Services changed the original “Privacy Rule” by eliminating the right of consent. The Department granted all covered healthcare providers regulatory permission "to use and disclose protected health information for treatment, payment or healthcare operations" without an individual's consent.

What Does This Mean?

Your consent is not required to share your personal health records in many situations. As a result of the HHS change, over 4 million businesses, potential employers, insurance companies, government agencies, medical billing firms and all their business associates have access to your health information for the purpose of treatment, payment or healthcare operations. This may include benefit managers, pharmaceutical companies, marketing firms and data mining companies. Although your doctor takes the necessary precautions to protect your health privacy, once your records are sent outside of an office, they lose control as to who can see or use your information.

How Does this Affect You?

You could be subject to employment discrimination. In testimony before the Senate HELP Committee, 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies admitted to looking at an employee's health records before making hiring and promotion decisions (2006, 65 Fed. Reg.82,467). As employers seek to reduce health insurance costs, little prevents them from reviewing employees' and their family's health records to pass over employees with costly health conditions.

You could be financially penalized. With the rise of interconnected computer networks, your health records can be quickly and easily transferred between all companies, organizations and agencies. Banks, insurance corporations and lenders could access and use your personal health history to make decisions that are not in your favor. Automobile insurance companies could charge more or even flat out deny coverage to a driver with a medical condition they consider risky. Banks would be in a position to base lending decisions and interest rates on your medical history. For example, a higher interest rate could be charged to someone with a condition that requires stints of unemployment to maintain their health.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

First, inform your doctors that you wish to opt out of marketing databases, research studies and that you do not want your health information released without your consent. Second, request a protected health information disclosure audit on an annual basis from all your doctors. Third, report all discrepancies to your doctor so they can remedy the situation and, if necessary, report the discrepancy to the appropriate government agency for action. Arctrieval's free service will assist you in all these areas.

Even if you choose not to use Arctrieval's free service, we strongly urge you to manage your family's health information and privacy using the forms available. We believe it is important you protect yourself, whether or not Arctrieval is part of the process.