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Date: Thursday, Sept. 11, 1997  
Contact: HHS Press Office (202) 690-6343            

Shalala Urges Congress to Protect Americans' Personal Medical Records

HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala today urged Congress to enact legislation to protect the privacy of personal medical records.

Releasing a report to Congress with recommendations for legislation, Secretary Shalala said, "Americans shouldn't have to trade in their privacy rights to get quality health care."

"We have federal laws that protect the privacy of video records, motor vehicle records, and credit cards. Yet the way we protect our most sacred family secrets, our medical records, is erratic at best -- and dangerous at worst," Shalala said. "We must act now with national legislation to address this serious threat."

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, HHS was asked to develop recommendations to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our health care records. Secretary Shalala presented the recommendations today in testim ony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.

Secretary Shalala asked Congress to enact federal legislation which would provide important new rights for patients and define responsibilities and limitations for those who need to have access to these medical records. By establishing a basic na tional standard of protection, there will be clear guidance and significant incentives for the fair treatment of personal information by those in the health care field, and there will be real penalties for misuse, Shalala said. Among the provisions which were proposed in the Secretary's report:

Privacy protections must be balanced with the public responsibility to support national priorities -- like public health, research, quality care, and our fight against health care fraud and abuse.

Currently, the use and disclosure of health information is protected by only limited federal law and a patchwork of state laws. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 calls for the Secretary of Health and Human Services t o impose confidentiality controls on electronic transaction systems if Congress does not legislate on confidentiality by August 1999.

NOTE: Click on The Secretary's report ( to review it. Other HHS press releases are available on the HHS web site,