National health-record privacy law in Congress

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A new law in Congress would require every U.S. citizen to have electronic health records by 2014. It would also set up privacy rules for those records, requiring information keepers to notify patients of security breaches.

The bill, called the "PRO(TECH)T Act," would provide incentives to doctors, hospitals, insurers, and the government to use electronic formats for health information, hopefully reducing medical errors and costs. Its provisions include safeguards, penalties, and notification requirements when a breach takes place. 

"Your grocery store automatically knows what brand of chips you bought last year, but your cardiologist doesn't automatically know what prescriptions your family doctor prescribed for you yesterday," U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said in an announcement.

In a comment, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. D-N.J., chairman of the Subcommittee on Health, added: "Investing in health information technology today will help make our health care system more efficient tomorrow, thereby lowering costs and saving lives."

The bill would change the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy and security rules. Specifically, it would require individuals affected by breaches of unencrypted protected health information to be notified without unreasonable delay – no more than 60 days after discovery. Another provision would permit patients to demand that information about a specific health care service not be disclosed to insurers if the patient paid for it already.

The bill also would tighten disclosure requirements, broaden individuals' rights to request disclosures, and require consent for disclosure of protected information if a provider is using an electronic medical record.

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