New health privacy rules start in April

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Privacy issues have become big business. A whole industry -- telemarketing -- has been sharply curtailed by no-call laws intended to let people choose to protect their privacy. Many other laws regulate information that once was considered open to anyone. One good example: Parents can't find out the grades their children earn in college without the students' written consent.

The tension between a desire for privacy and the public's right to have access to information is growing. Effective April 14, new comprehensive federal regulations for health-care privacy take effect. These rules were written the Department of Health and Human Services at the behest of Congress after lawmakers were unable to resolve differences on the issue.

Many of the new privacy rules are commonsense guidelines. But some aren't. For example, members of the clergy will no longer have access to lists of hospital patients and may miss opportunities to call on parishioners or deliver Holy Communion.

There is a fine line between privacy rights and government-sponsored secrecy. The danger is knowing where to draw it.

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