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Senator Clinton, Representative Nadler Introduce Patients’ Privacy Protection Act

Washington, DC, September 21, 2004
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) today announced that she has introduced legislation to protect the private medical records of all Americans from being used in court. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has introduced identical legislation in the House of Representatives.

"This legislation will ensure that Americans’ medical records are kept confidential. This is a level of protection Americans have every right to expect," said Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton and Representative Nadler were inspired to write this legislation after Attorney General John Ashcroft sought to review the private medical records of thousands of women who had had abortions across the country earlier this year. Attorney General Ashcroft sought to obtain those records to defend the first ever federal abortion ban, which the president signed into law last November. The records Ashcroft requested were from women who were not even parties to the lawsuits he was working on.

Congressman Nadler said, "Today we act to protect medical privacy from a Bush administration that is seeking to enforce a blatantly unconstitutional ban on safe abortion procedures. The President signed this bill knowing full well that the Supreme Court had only recently struck down a virtually identical law. The threat is plain: if the Bush administration doesn't approve of your choices, they will seize your most personal information. The American people will not, and should not, accept a government that feels free to rifle through and publicize their most private medical information."

"If John Ashcroft can use the power of the Justice Department to obtain the private medical records of thousands of women with no connection to a federal lawsuit, then the privacy of all Americans’ medical records could be at risk," said Senator Clinton.

"This bill plugs a dangerous loophole, and it is long past due," said Senator Clinton.

Courts and legislatures across the country have successfully balanced the public interest in obtaining important information with a patient's right to privacy by carefully articulating exceptions to the provider-patient privilege. This bill would clarify that there is a doctor patient privilege under the Federal Rules of Evidence, protecting a patient's confidential medical information in court.

President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft have said numerous times that is it important to protect patients’ private medical records. On April 12, 2001, President Bush said, "I believe that we must protect both vital health care services and the right of every American to have confidence that his or her personal medical records will remain private."

In 1998, on the Senate floor, John Ashcroft said, "We should guarantee that the federal government does not undermine an individual's fundamental right to privacy… Without privacy protections in place, people may be discouraged from seeking help or taking advantage of the access to health care." Senator Clinton and Congressman Nadler agree with both sentiments, and have introduced this legislation to ensure that the President and the Attorney General do not go back on their word again.

The Patients’ Privacy Protection Act only allows records to be released in the rare case that a court determines that the public interest significantly outweighs the patient’s right to privacy.

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