WASHINGTON (AP) -- Doctors and hospitals can share patient information with HMOs and insurance companies as long as these records are directly related to health services, under a new Bush administration medical policy that has privacy advocates worried.
This information exchange can happen without a patient's permission, says the rule -- years in the making -- that was released Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services. The rule offers the first comprehensive federal protections for health privacy and applies to nearly every patient, doctor, hospital, insurance plan and pharmacy.
The administration said it struck the right balance between privacy concerns and the provision of timely medical care.
But privacy advocacy groups weren't so sure and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said he intended to introduce legislation to overturn the policy.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson touted the rule, saying it "protects the confidentiality of Americans' medical records without creating new barriers to receiving quality health care."
The regulation, which takes effect in April 2003 for all but the smallest health plans, sets aside a Clinton administration proposal that would have required a patient's written consent before such information could be released.
The smallest plans will have an additional year to comply.
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