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Braley: Feds clarify HIPAA privacy guidelines following coach's death

By Christinia Crippes, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 26--WATERLOO -- Rep. Bruce Braley has been seeking guidance on health privacy policies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services following a question posed by the widow of a slain football coach at a hearing on mental health and public safety last April.

Braley sought clarification after the hearing, where Jan Thomas, the wife of slain Aplington-Parkersburg High School football coach Ed Thomas, asked lawmakers: "Is the privacy of one individual more sacred than a life? Is it more important than the welfare of the general public?"

Following HSS guidelines issued Tuesday, Braley said he believes both are possible.

"I firmly believe that we can protect medical privacy and public safety at the same time and will continue my work to strengthen both," Braley said.

The additional guidance comes nearly five years after Ed Thomas was fatally shot by a former student Mark Becker in June 2009. Becker had been released from a Waterloo hospital less than 24 hours before the shooting and local law enforcement had not been made aware of his mental health status.

The guidance was released as a result of a letter that Braley sent to HHS seeking clarification.

The clarification on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, states that privacy protections are critical but the department recognizes there are times when health information may need to be shared to either ensure the best treatment or for the health and safety of the patient or others.

It states that HIPAA allows providers to:

-- Communicate with family members when a patient is an adult.

-- Communicate with parents when the patient is a minor.

-- Communicate with people involved in the patient's care.

-- Communicate with law enforcement, family or others when a patient presents a "serious and imminent threat" of harm to self or others.

-- Communicate with law enforcement about the release of a patient brought in for emergency psychiatric hold.

-- Consider the patient's capacity to agree or object to the sharing of their information.

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The department has previously taken action as a result of the letter, by releasing a pocketbook guide last September to help both law enforcement and health care providers understand when and to what extent the privacy rules permit providers to disclose information to law enforcement.

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(c)2014 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

Visit Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) at www.wcfcourier.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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