Bill seeks to clarify hospital privacy regulations

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SHERIDAN — State hospital officials say a bill sponsored by local legislators would clarify the regulations regarding patient privacy in the state.

Senate File 96 — which is sponsored by local legislators Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan; Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan; and Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn — would repeal the state’s Hospital Records Act and rely on federal statutes to protect the privacy of medical records.

Wyoming enacted the Hospital Records Act in 1991 to protect the privacy of patients’ medical records. At the time, federal law did not offer the protections the state legislation instituted and Wyoming Hospital Association President Eric Boley said the act was effective at the time.

“It was the state’s attempt to protect patient information and I actually think they did a really good job,” Boley said. “But once HIPAA was enacted, some conflicts arose (between the two laws).”

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — which was instituted federally in 1996 — provided the same protections as Wyoming’s HRA. Sheridan Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer Mike McCafferty said the two laws are basically redundant.

“Those two laws run parallel and essentially do the same thing for the privacy of patients,” McCafferty said.

But the procedures for complying with each statute are slightly different.

“I think it creates confusion, more than anything,” McCafferty said. “And I think the HIPAA law provides layers of protection for patients relative to access to their medical records.”

The discrepancies between the two overlapping laws has created regulatory speed bumps for some hospitals and outside entities. Boley said the laws have have created difficulties for law enforcement in particular, as agencies have had to make different, sometimes redundant, requests to satisfy the requirements in both laws.

“If a patient was seen in a hospital, it fell under the Hospital Records Act but if a patient was seen in a physician’s clinic, it fell under HIPAA,” Boley said. “There were just discrepancies in how the medical field could comply with law.”

He added that complicating hospitals’ compliance with HIPAA can put them at risk.

“HIPAA, the federal law, is a thousand pound gorilla. It’s the law we comply with everything else,” Boley said. “If we violate HIPAA, we have to self-report ourselves to the federal government and so (the overlap) just puts hospitals in a predicament that doesn’t really need to take place.”

Should SF96 pass, Boley and McCafferty agreed that hospitals would benefit from clearer regulations without having to sacrifice protections on patient privacy.

“If the state goes with the federal law, it’s just a cleaner way to proceed,” Boley said.

The bill has passed three readings in the state Senate and has been received for introduction in the House.

By |Feb. 4, 2019|

About the Author:

Michael Illiano joined The Sheridan Press as a government and politics reporter in February 2018. He is originally from New Jersey and graduated from Boston University. Email him at michael.illiano@thesheridanpress.com.

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