Update October 2006: The United States Supreme Court declined to hear Citizens for
Health v. Michael O. Leavitt, the case supported by Patient Privacy Rights and 9 other organizations across the country representing 750,000 consumers. See news story.
Patient Privacy Rights will continue its fight to restore Americans’ right to medical privacy through legislation.
In 2003, before the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation was formed, two members of our board (Deborah Peel, MD and Robert Pyles, MD) were instrumental in filing a federal lawsuit to restore every American’s right to control who can see and use his/her medical records.
At the time, no privacy watchdog organizations, health or disease-based organizations, medical professional organizations, or consumer advocacy organizations were acting to save those rights or inform the nation.
Most members of the Administration, Congress, the media, and the public simply did not understand that their medical privacy rights had been eliminated by a federal agency.
As a small band of individuals, they were unable to bring the loss of medical privacy to the nation’s attention. The only option available to restore the entire nation’s medical privacy rights was by using the legal system — by asking the courts to invalidate the federal regulations which eliminated patients’ fundamental Constitutional rights.
- About the Lawsuit – Restoring Medical Privacy
- Suit Filed in Philadelphia
- Purpose of the Lawsuit
- Legal Basis
- Appeal and Oral Arguments
- Results of Appeal
- Next Steps
About The Lawsuit – Restoring Medical PrivacyThe suit was filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) on April 10, 2003, four days before the Amended Privacy Rule became law. See Citizens for Health, et. al. v. Leavitt, No. 03-2267 MAM. An amended complaint adding additional Plaintiffs was filed on May 5, 2003.
The 18 Plaintiffs in the suit represent over 750,000 citizens and practitioners from every state in the nation.
Why Philadelphia?The suit was filed in Philadelphia because the right to liberty was recognized there in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as an “unalienable” right of all people. The Third Circuit Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has a strong record of protecting medical privacy rights.
Purpose Of The LawsuitThe goal is to restore the “right of consent” — the right to give permission before others can see and use your medical information.
Legal Basis For The LawsuitThe suit seeks to eliminate the amendments to the Original Health Privacy Rule adopted under HIPAA and restore the right of consent granted in the Original Rule for the following reasons:
- The Amended Rule violates the First Amendment right of patients to have private conversations with their doctors remain private.
- The Amended Rule violates Plaintiffs’ rights to privacy for their personal health information as protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
- The Amended Rule violates the authorizing statute (section 264 of HIPAA). Congress intended for the Privacy Rule to enhance privacy protections in order to preserve the public’s trust as standards were adopted to facilitate the electronic transmission and storage of health information, not reduce privacy protections. (65 Fed. Reg. at 82,463)
- The Amended Rule violates the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act as the government failed to consider relevant findings and evidence when it reversed its position on the right to medical privacy and consent. The government’s own findings state that medical privacy is a “fundamental right” that is essential for quality health care. (65 Fed. Reg. at 82,464, 82,467)
- The Amended Rule violates another core concept of our system of democracy and government — that “Governments…deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Declaration of Independence, paragraph 2.
- Finally, the suit notes that the Amended Rule eliminates the right of law abiding citizens, who pose no threat to society, to be let alone. This right is “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” (Brandeis, J., Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438, 478, 48 S. Ct. 564, 572 (1928))
- The amendments to HIPAA violate citizen’s Constitutional rights under the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
The District Court found in favor of the Defendants, saying that the Amended Rule eliminated the medical privacy of the Plaintiffs, but that there was no constitutional violation because covered entities had the theoretical choice to provide a consent process.
Appeal and Oral ArgumentsThe Plaintiffs appealed; oral arguments were heard on March 9, 2005, in Philadelphia.
In the appeal, Plaintiffs pointed out, as was shown in the civil rights cases, that constitutional rights were violated when the federal government confers the authority on private entities to deprive citizens of their rights, and merely allowing private entities the discretion to deprive or not deprive citizens of their rights does not save a law from being unconstitutional. The outcome of the appeal is pending.
November 1, 2005 – Third Circuit Court Issues Ruling
On November 1, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its ruling in the above case after nearly nine months of deliberation. Despite the fact that the Court seemed quite interested and receptive to Plaintiffs’ arguments at oral argument on March 9, the Court affirmed the decision of the District Court avoiding ruling on the constitutional claims and holding that the Amended HIPAA Privacy Rule is valid under the HIPAA statute and the Administrative Procedure Act. The decision, however, is quite different in significant respects from the District Court decision, contains numerous rulings in favor of the Plaintiffs and also contains several significant errors.
The Plaintiffs petitioned for a writ of certiorari that is, asking the Supreme Court to hear this case.
October 2, 2006 – Supreme Court declines to hear case
On October 2, 2006, the United States Supreme Court rejected the case brought by Patient Privacy Rights and nine other organizations representing 750,000 consumers.