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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, Feb. 23, 2001
Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

STATEMENT BY HHS SECRETARY TOMMY G. THOMPSON


On Dec. 28, 2000, the Department of Health and Human Services published in the Federal Register a final rule creating new federal privacy rights for personal health information. These "Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information" are intended to ensure patients that the privacy of their medical records is secure, and to ensure that this information is used appropriately. This administration is absolutely committed to achieving these goals.

At the same time, under the Congressional Review Act, HHS was legally required to submit this regulation for consideration by the Congress for a 60-day period. Due to an oversight under the prior administration, this requirement was not met. As a result of this oversight, the 60-day period of Congressional review did not begin until Feb. 13, and therefore the effective date of the regulation has been delayed until April 14, 2001.

This legally-required time period is designed to give Congress the opportunity to review the regulation. However, it also creates an opportunity to ensure that the provisions of this final rule will indeed work as intended throughout the complex field of health care, without creating unanticipated consequences that might harm patients' access to care or the quality of that care. I believe we can protect patient privacy without harming access to health care or the quality of health care.

To ensure a thorough review of these important issues, HHS is opening the final regulation to a 30-day public comment period. The department will review the comments it receives to determine whether changes in the final rule are needed.

Our goal is to achieve privacy protection that works. I believe we should be open to the concerns of all those who care strongly about health care and privacy. And after we hear those concerns, our commitment must be to put strong and effective patient privacy protections into effect as quickly as possible.

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