Did Tim Armstrong’s ‘Distressed Babies’ Comment Violate HIPAA Privacy Laws?

US citizens have a fundamental Constitutional right to health information privacy—but can’t easily sue. Only federal employees can sue under the Privacy Act of 1974, as vets did when a laptop with millions of health records was stolen. Even with strong state health privacy laws and state constitutional rights to privacy in place, it’s very hard to sue because most courts demand proof of monetary harm. This new digital disaster: exposing and/or selling sensitive personal health data–can’t be stopped without stronger, clearer federal laws. OR if US citizens boycott the corporations that violate their rights to health privacy.

-Deb

This blog written in response to the following article:

Did Tim Armstrong’s ‘Distressed Babies’ Comment Violate HIPAA Privacy Laws?
By Abby Ohlheiser
The Wire, February 10, 2014

Revelations by AOL Boss Raise Fears Over Privacy

By Natasha Singer
NYTimes.com, February 10, 2014

Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, apologized last weekend for publicly revealing sensitive health care details about two employees to explain why the online media giant had decided to cut benefits. He even reinstated the benefits after a backlash.

Tim Armstrong, the chief executive of AOL, apologized last weekend for publicly revealing sensitive health care details about two employees to explain why the online media giant had decided to cut benefits. He even reinstated the benefits after a backlash.

But patient and work force experts say the gaffe could have a lasting impact on how comfortable — or discomfited — Americans feel about bosses’ data-mining their personal lives.

Mr. Armstrong made a seemingly offhand reference to “two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were O.K.” The comments, made in a conference call with employees, brought an immediate outcry, raising questions over corporate access to and handling of employees’ personal medical data.

“This example shows how easy it is for employers to find out if employees have a rare medical condition,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, a nonprofit group in Austin, Tex. She urged regulators to investigate Mr. Armstrong’s disclosure about the babies, saying “he completely outed these two families.”

To view the full article, please visit Revelations by AOL Boss Raise Fears Over Privacy

 

My Baby and AOL’s Bottom Line

By Deanna Fei
Slate Magazine, February 9, 2014

That “distressed baby” who Tim Armstrong blamed for benefit cuts? She’s my daughter.

Late last week, Tim Armstrong, the chief executive officer of AOL, landed himself in a media firestorm when he held a town hall with employees to explain why he was paring their retirement benefits. After initially blaming Obamacare for driving up the company’s health care costs, he pointed the finger at an unlikely target: babies.

Specifically, my baby.

“Two things that happened in 2012,” Armstrong said. “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost. So when we had the final decision about what benefits to cut because of the increased healthcare costs, we made the decision, and I made the decision, to basically change the 401(k) plan.”

Within hours, that quote was all over the Internet. On Friday, Armstrong’s logic was the subject of lengthy discussions on CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets. Mothers’ advocates scolded him for gross insensitivity. Lawyers debated whether he had violated his employees’ privacy. Health care experts noted that his accounting of these “million-dollar babies” seemed, at best, fuzzy.

Plenty of smart, witty people took to Twitter to express their outrage—or mock outrage. The phrase “distressed babies” became practically an inside joke, as in, “How many distressed babies does AOL pay this guy?” A few AOL employees made cracks like this: “I swear I didn’t have any babies in 2012. Don’t hate me for messing up your 401(k).”

To view the full article, please visit My Baby and AOL’s Bottom Line