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Father testifies against HIPAA laws over lost son

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More testimony and impassioned pleas over HIPAA:

This time it comes from Gregg Wolfe, who testified before a House subcommittee after he lost his son, Justin, a Temple University student, in December 2012 to an accidental heroin overdose at the age of 21, according to ABC News.

ABC reported the father did not know about his son’s situation.

“With the HIPAA regulations, if I would have known, and would have been apprised that he was doing heroin, a whole different strategy would have been proposed and mandated as far as him getting the proper care that he deserved and needed,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe went on to say danger to a patient or others caused by health problems should supersede HIPAA protections.

“He could have taken out my son’s life — my other son — he could have taken out other people’s lives, not realizing what he was doing, not being malicious,” Wolfe said.

“We should have an exception where the parents or legal caretakers of a minor or emancipated adult with drug abuse or mental health histories who continue to cover them with health coverage or continue to support them financially, have access to their health care records until the age of 26 to prevent them from harming themselves or society,” the father added.

According to the Capitol Hill testimony, many doctors are unclear about where their safe harbor lies, according to ABC News.

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  1. Brett Shrader says:

    This sad situation brings up an aspect of privacy that most people don’t realize: because substance abuse was involved, HIPAA may not be the main player here. If the son had been getting ongoing treatment for substance abuse, it is likely that the confidentiality of that information was protected by 42 CFR Part 2 (“Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records”). That 40-year old regulation has virtually no exceptions allowing disclosure of substance abuse PHI without a written release. No exceptions for treatment, payment, health care operations, family & friends, etc. A “program” can’t even disclose that information to protect a threatened person…unless it involves a “crime on the program’s premises or against program personnel.” You can’t even release these records pursuant to a subpoena…you have to have a special court order PLUS a subpoena. I work in the mental health/substance abuse sector and have to respond to requests for these records all the time (mainly for coordination of care reasons). And if I had a dollar for each time the requestor said “But HIPAA says it’s ok” when I tell them we can’t disclose the information, I could go ahead and retire.

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