The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s open records law overrules the protections for medical records under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Government Health IT reports.
Attorney John Greiner was the legal counsel for the Cincinnati Enquirer in its successful proceeding to order the city to hand over information regarding building owners who’d been cited for lead paint violations, according to Government Health IT. Greiner told Government Health IT that the decision is possibly the first regarding a clash between states’ open records laws and HIPAA.
A number of states have open records laws, so the case’s outcome could prove to be a landmark ruling should similar situations emerge in other locales.
On March 17, the state’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Cincinnati Health Department was in the wrong when it used HIPAA’s privacy protections as an excuse not to provide the Enquirer with information on lead paint violations, according to Government Health IT.
Joy Pritts, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Medical Rights and Privacy, told Government Health IT that the Ohio court “probably reached the right decision, given the way HIPAA is written.”
Pritts was referring to a provision within HIPAA that states all health records must be kept private unless otherwise required under state law, Government Health IT reports.
“That exception can be seen as large enough to drive a truck through,” Pritts told Government Health IT.
The issue is further complicated by a clause within Ohio’s Public Records Law that says many health records must be publicly available unless a federal law says otherwise, according to Government Health IT.
Though the court found that records pertaining to lead paint in houses should not be classified as medical records, and therefore are not protected under HIPAA, it also said that even if the records were covered by the act, the state’s open records law would have superseded it, Government Health IT reports.
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