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Government News
APA Joins Protest Against Easy Access to Records
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 19 page 5-5

APA has joined 28 other organizations in a letter to Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), expressing concern that financial institutions might have "inappropriate access" to protected health information.

The September 10 letter cited an August 6 Wall Street Journal article that said that "medical data can show up in your credit report." The signatories write, "Financial institutions have expressed strong interest in data-mining information they obtain through transactions and in using this information for marketing to their existing customers, finding new customers, and evaluating credit risks. When banks process payments through the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network on behalf of health care clients, ACH transactions contain [protected health information] when they include transmissions of the electronic remittance advice (ERA)."

ERA contains specific information about patients and the medical procedures for which the money is being paid. The 2000 Final Rule for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) stated that ERA is not exempt from provisions of HIPAA, but financial institutions are protesting this interpretation.

According to the Health Privacy Project, which initiated the letter, the current medical privacy rule prohibits financial institutions from accessing health information for data-mining purposes, but "HHS is being heavily lobbied by some in the financial services industry to rollback this critical provision."

The text of the letter is posted at www.healthprivacy.org.

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