The Meanderthals

The rules that protect me from myself

Imagine if the geniuses that brought us the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act got their mitts into more mundane aspects of our lives?

HIPAA, signed into law In1996 by President Bill Clinton, was designed to provide citizens with access to healthcare and protect confidential information.

Its purpose, according to Wikipedia:

  • Provides the ability to transfer and continue health insurance coverage for millions of American workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs;
  • Reduces health care fraud and abuse;
  • Mandates industry-wide standards for health care information on electronic billing and other processes; and
  • Requires the protection and confidential handling of protected health information

I regret to inform you, as the best DUI lawyer in Overland Park, that this summary is total baloney, as accurate as a Fox News analysis of President Obama’s economic policies. It’s also wildly unpopular with Americans (a recent poll revealed that 71% of US folks hate the law and its impenetrable restrictions).

HIPAA is here to mess with our heads, expose consumers to unprecedented frustration and heap masses of onerous regulations on health care support staff.  It’s as if Joseph Heller’s fictional character John Yossarian (of Catch-22 fame) was given the reins to write the HIPAA details. Paranoid, over-reactive and delusional such as he was, Yossarian’s philosophy to “live forever or die trying” would have made him the perfect author for such mind-numbing obfuscation.

I recently had the unpleasant exposure to HIPAA’s roadblocks – not once, but twice – by requesting medical records from two esteemed Massachusetts medical providers, and I am here to tell you that this obstructionist law is as baffling as Lindsay Lohan’s on-set behavior. Only it’s dumber.

The bigger of the two concerns I had to deal with – North Shore Medical Center – has partnered with technology giant Cisco Systems to devise a secure-file transfer to enable we hapless patients to have access to information about ourselves.

Having been thwarted in my attempt to have a record of my tests emailed to me – egad! It could be intercepted by an unknown third party who would delve into the depths of my bacterial infection and reveal the truths to the world! – I was directed to the process that follows.

I received an email from NSMC inviting me to sign into the system to be enabled to log onto a secure website and – following a full disclosure of everything from where I was born to what color shirt I was wearing that day (none…it was hot) – I was able to log on and wait three and a half weeks to download a report about myself.

Remember the days of making a call to your doctor’s office and having them “pop a copy in the mail?” Gone! Circle the wagons and call the lawyers! Yetter wants details about his stool sample!

Having been exposed to the joys of US health care regulations in this initial waltz around the bureaucratic dance floor, I was prepared for the inevitable when I called Family Doctors in Swampscott, Mass., and asked for a detailed report of my visit.

I wound my way though the practice’s highly personal auto attendant and found myself in the capable care of a woman named Amy.

I explained what I was looking for and that I was calling from Cambodia and asked for her help.

“Due to privacy laws I am unable to provide you with that information,” she intoned surprising me by not also asking if Cambodia was anywhere near Revere.

“So, what, do I need to have my lawyer submit an affidavit or a request or something?”

“No, you must have the insurance company fax a request. They do these things all the time. It’s not a problem.”

Well, Amy, this whole thing is indeed a problem, but I won’t go into the mundane challenges of living 10,000 miles away and having to deal with bureaucratic nonsense concocted in the vast intellectual wasteland of Washington, DC. But I’m taking solace in the fact that this kind of invasive surgery on logic and customer service hasn’t spread to, say, banking.

Oh, wait. That particular horse is out of the barn, down the road and on its way to the glue factory.

OK, how about financial services. Ooops. That’s been infected, too, as I learned the hard way when the company I pay to manage my meager funds informed me that I no longer qualify for a credit card to access my money due to a lovely regulation with the acronym of FATCA. (In my opinion this is missing a “T” at the end, and in the spirit of accuracy I would herein like to begin a petition to have it added. I would suggest changing it to FATASS, but that’s already taken.)

And when I finally found some company to provide me with a credit card so I can use it to spend my money (what a novel idea!) I was stunned by the disclaimer at the end of the hour-lone application and approval process:

“All information in this application, as well as a transcript of this conversation and the details of your disclosure during this process must, under federal law, be provided to the federal government under the Patriot Act. By agreeing to this term, you further agree to allow CapitalOne to provide this information to the government. By declining, you refuse to disclose this information and we will be unable to provide you with a credit card.”

Uh, I get it. The government controls the sandbox. You follow their rules, you get to play. You don’t? You’re out, like the kid with dog poo on his sneaker who is banished from dance class.

So I agreed, grumbling, but I’m about as happy with having to agree with that disclosure as I am with the rules of HIPAA.

Call me grumpy, but I always thought laws and regulations were designed to help and protect people, not obstruct, frustrate and confound them. And since when do government regulations have the final say on the transfer and ownership of information?

Next time I’m calling the NSA if I need privileged information about myself. Those guys can get their mitts on anything in a jiffy.

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