Nobody Waived the HIPAA Privacy Law in Orlando After All
On Sunday, Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer told television reporters that he had asked the White House to waive the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act so doctors could inform the families of victims about their loved ones. At WIRED, I wrote a story explaining why waiving HIPAA was actually not necessary in this case—but why worried healthcare providers might want it waived anyways. HIPAA is a confusing law that has the potential to slow down care in an emergency.
Also confusing: the existence of the waiver itself. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services—whose secretary has the authority to waive HIPAA—emailed journalists that the initial reports were wrong: HIPAA was not waived because it was not necessary in this case. (HHS did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment on Monday.) Evidently, some miscommunication went on between the mayor’s office and the federal government. This is understandable after such a deadly mass shooting. First reports are often wrong.
But the situation does underscore how confusing HIPAA can be. “Even hospitals are not completely aware of what HIPAA says or doesn’t say,” says one emergency room doctor. In this case, at least, two wrongs—the initial confusion about HIPAA and then the confusion about waiving HIPAA—appear to have made a right. Hopefully none of the victims were impacted by misperceptions about HIPAA. But confusion about the law can and does have real consequences every day in the ER.
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