By Douglas J. Hagmann
Whether you are at the doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic awaiting treatment for you or your loved one, how many of you read the fine print on those multi-page legal notices pertaining to privacy practices? I suspect not many, yet you sign them anyway, especially when you are most vulnerable. But have you read them recently?
A caller to The Hagmann Report said that she took her daughter to a medical facility to treat an illness on December 4, 2012. Among the forms she was handed was a two-page privacy notice that she was given pursuant to state and federal law. Upon arriving home and after things settled down, she decided to review the paperwork she received from the medical facility – despite not having a magnifying glass that would have helped get through the tiny, 8-point font.
Buried in the middle of page two of this finely typed legal notice oriented in landscape format, located between the subheadings of “military” and “inmates,” is an interesting addition to at least one hospital’s privacy disclosure statement. Under the heading of “National Security,” the notice states that the treating medical facility may disclose your health information to federal officials “to protect the President, other officials or foreign heads of state.”
Please stop here and carefully consider that statement. It is critical to point out that this statement is an addition to the typical national security warning seemingly ubiquitous in post 9-11 disclosure statements in America. It specifically identifies the President [of the United States], other officials, or foreign heads of state. Again, please contemplate the meaning of these words, their intent, and the context in which they are written.
When asked when the last update was made to that document, she stated that she would have to research the matter to identify the exact date and what changes were made, although she stated that the privacy notice was updated at least once this year, and perhaps twice.
At this point, I drew her attention to the section in question, to the specific line “in order to protect the President, other officials or foreign heads of state.” I questioned whether this was a recent addition or if the verbiage was contained in the original document. I also asked if this statement was added in anticipation of implementing the Affordable Health Care Act.
At this point, she again asked me the name of the publication I represented and the reason for my question. She was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my questions and finally stated that before providing any additional information, she would have to check with another department head. In the interim, however, she advised me that I did not have her consent to use her name or title in any public venue. When pressed whether this one sentence was a recent addition and assured that she would not be publicly cited, her response was simply “I’d rather not say.” At that point, my inquiry was promptly terminated.
Following this interview, I contacted a source at a local medical facility I’ve known for over two decades. When asked about this sentence, this source confirmed that in their case, which is likely to be the case on a national level, major changes to their privacy notice were made in early 2012. The terminology was identical, suggesting that the changes were federal in origin.
Medical facilities and the information about individuals they compile are extremely personal and extensive. Many “privileges” enjoyed by Americans, such as gun ownership and concealed carrying of a firearm, even driving and employment, are contingent upon the content of the information contained in these records. The policies have existed for decades without the need for specific reference to perceived threats to one man or office, other government officials, and even foreign leaders. The addition of this specific threat identification, in addition to the standard wording, serves a specific purpose. To the majority of people, the wording will raise no concern and certainly no alarm. To others watching what is taking place, they will, as they should. To those who will argue that they have nothing to hide so, they have no reason to fear, think again.