Who is Sharing My Personal Health Info?

HIPAA privacy protections remain active during coronavirus pandemic
person with a mask on looking at a computer screen

An Associated Press review found that at least 10 U.S. states share the names of everyone who tests positive for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

This AP review shows that public health officials in at least 35 states share the addresses of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

In at least 10 of those states, health agencies also share their names: Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

Sharing the ‘COVID-19’ information does not violate medical privacy laws, under guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the AP on May 19, 2020.

To clarify this privacy rights issue, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance on how covered entities may disclose protected health information (PHI) about an individual who has been infected with or exposed to COVID-19 to law enforcement, paramedics, other first responders, and public health authorities in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.

The guidance issued on March 24, 2020, explains the circumstances under which a covered entity may disclose PHI such as the name or other identifying information about individuals, without their HIPAA authorization.

On May 5, 2020, HHS issued additional guidance reminding covered healthcare providers that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit them to give media access to facilities where patients’ protected PHI will be accessible without the patients’ prior authorization. 

The guidance explains that even during the current COVID-19 public health emergency, covered healthcare providers are still required to obtain a valid HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI will be accessible to the media before the media is given access to that PHI.

“The last thing hospital patients need to worry about during the COVID-19 crisis is a film crew walking around their bed shooting ‘B-roll,’” said Roger Severino, OCR Director.

As an example, Ohio’s Health Director Dr. Amy Acton issued an order on April 24, 2020, requiring local health departments to provide emergency dispatchers the names and addresses of people within their jurisdictions who tested positive for COVID-19 disease.

Yet the order also stated that first responders should assume anyone they come into contact with may have COVID-19.

That portion of the order puzzles the American Civil Liberties Union.

“If that is a best or recommended practice, then why the need or desire to share this specific information with first responders?” said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU’s Ohio chapter.

In reaction to Dr. Acton’s order, members of the Ohio House of Representatives passed an amendment to Senate Bill 1 that will limit any new order issued by Dr. Amy Acton.

SARS-CoV-2 pandemic news published by Coronavirus Today.