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Medical Privacy Vanishes for Some MI Public Employees

April 21, 2008

East Lansing, MI – A new privacy alert: Medical records for some Michigan public employees could be available for anyone to see. The Michigan Education Association has verified a case where employees in the Lawton School District were ordered to turn over their health histories, and that of their families, so the district could shop around for health insurance.

Ed Sarpolus with the MEA says sharing that information with an employer goes against federal laws designed to protect medical privacy.

"I don't know of any time that you've ever turned over privacy information, unless it's directly to your doctor, your lawyer, or to the actual insurance company that you're going to be using for your health care."

Sarpolus believes Public Act 106, passed last fall and designed to reduce health insurance costs, is to blame because it doesn't require privacy protection. Although federal laws protect medical information, the way the state law was written does not guarantee privacy. In fact, he says, it guarantees the LOSS of privacy.

"Somebody off the street can say: 'I want that information. This is a publicly-funded institution, and that means I can get anything that you have.'"

He warns that the information could be used to discriminate against workers, that public employers could decide to eliminate coverage for certain conditions, or that anyone could demand to see the information because it's public record.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - MI