While much has changed as the nation deals with the coronavirus pandemic, one thing hasn’t – the federal medical privacy law that forbids the public identification of people who have contracted the virus.
As new cases are reported, questions on social media often seek the identity of the infected individual. But since 1996, a federal law prevents medical providers and others from disclosing that information.
The law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly called HIPAA, generally mandates that health records and a patient’s identity are kept confidential.
HIPAA “is designed to set privacy standards for patients,” said Sharon Ray, a registered nurse with the Communicable Disease Team at the Barren River District Health Department.
There are tiers of penalties for those violating HIPAA, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.
When a coronavirus case is confirmed in the region, health officials do work to contact those who might have been exposed to the infected individual.
Even then, “we do conduct our investigations according to HIPAA,” Ray said.
While some regulations can be waived or modified during a national health emergency such as the current coronavirus pandemic, those changes do not give health providers the ability “to release an individual’s name,” Ray said.
Under HIPAA, a person’s health information may be shared with public health authorities: “This includes disclosing positive test results for COVID-19 to state and local health departments, HHS, or the CDC as appropriate,” according to the National Law Review.
A person can choose to publicly identify themselves, however, as did Bowling Green attorney David Broderick. Broderick had the first confirmed coronavirus case in the region. He was released from TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital last week.
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