People tend to overuse the term “game changer,” but never has it been more appropriate than now when it is applied to COVID-19. Just what hasn’t the virus affected? Schools, churches, travel, workplace, weddings, funerals, sporting events, concerts, Wall Street, medical service and many, many more are deeply affected. However, I can think of one very thing that has not changed. Can you? Something that hasn’t changed — and the fact that it hasn’t changed — could put you and your family at a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
What is it? HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996. HIPAA’s provisions prohibit the release of a hospital patient’s identity, in order to protect the patient’s privacy and security. That is all well and good in the normal times in which the law was conceived. However, we all know much too well that there is nothing normal now.
Please tell me why it should not be up for serious consideration to modify HIPAA’s provision to allow newspapers to publish the names and addresses of persons confirmed to have a positive result for COVID-19 testing? This virus is an invisible enemy, and HIPAA is making it harder to fight because we (the public) do not know who has the disease. If you knew who was infected and it was someone you had come in close contact with, wouldn’t it make your precautions more informed? Isn’t the public’s health and well-being a higher priority than protecting an individual’s privacy?
There is a point at which the public safety outweighs an individual’s privacy, and exceptions are made. One such exception is the national registry for sex offenders. Their names and addresses are made public, so the public can take reasonable precautions to avoid them and ensure their children are protected.
As we’ve heard over and over, we are in an unprecedented global pandemic, and it is necessary that we respond by taking measures that match this unprecedented threat to the public’s health. Will you join me in asking our national leaders to revise HIPAA?