Commission mulls state law overrides

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An advisory commission working to increase interoperability among the nation’s health information systems may ask Congress to override state and local medical privacy laws when those laws are at variance with federal law.

Differing state laws that protect the privacy of medical records is an obstacle to automated exchange of that information, according to members of the Commission on Systemic Interoperability.

The 11-member commission was established in October 2004 to develop a strategy for “the adoption and implementation of health care information technology standards that includes a timeline and prioritization for such adoption and implementation.” It is scheduled to deliver a report to the Department of Health and Human Services and to Congress by October 2005.

Dana Haza, commission director, confirmed that the commission is considering overriding state laws among its recommendations. She declined to speculate on the likelihood that the override would be in the final report.

Joy Wilson, director of health policy for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said her organization would be concerned about any effort to override state laws. She said similar medical records proposals have surfaced before.

Although Wilson said she was not familiar with the commission’s deliberations, she said it is possible that the current environment of enthusiasm for health IT might give the proposal new legs.

“Uniformity is something people strive for,” she said. “But we do have the 50 states.”

Any attempt to override state privacy laws probably would result in “collateral damage,” or unintended consequences, Wilson said.

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