BIDDEFORD (AP) – Federal medical privacy laws that took effect last week are so strict they may cause difficult adjustments in some states, but Maine isn’t one of them.

Hospital officials and health-law experts say Maine has had stringent medical privacy laws in place since 1999, so it’s having an easy time adjusting to the rules that took effect April 14.

Sue Hadiaris, spokeswoman for Southern Maine Medical Center, said the federal guidelines dovetail in almost all areas with Maine’s medical privacy laws.

The new regulations say patient records can’t be released unless the patient allows it, and guarantees patients the right to review their medical records and request corrections. They also require health care providers to inform patients of their privacy rights and how personal information will be used.

Health care providers who break the rules face penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

Patients at the Biddeford hospital now receive notices detailing the hospital’s obligations under the law. Patients are asked to sign paperwork that acknowledges receipt of the information.

“There really wasn’t a significant change in the way we do our business,” Hadiaris said.

She acknowledged that complying with the law takes a little more time.

The new regulations say patient records can’t be released unless the patient allows it, and guarantees patients the right to review their medical records and request corrections. They also require health care providers to inform patients of their privacy rights and how personal information will be used.

The rules, which apply to doctors, hospitals, insurers and other health care organizations, are part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act that was supported by the Clinton administration.

Health care providers who break the rules face penalties of up to $250,000 and 10 years in prison.

Ken Lehman, a health care lawyer in Portland, said the federal rules are causing major changes in other states, where doctors and hospitals are complaining of a huge paperwork and computer-programming burden at a time health care providers are financially squeezed.

Sandy Parker, general counsel for the Maine Hospital Association, said the 1999 Maine rules brought about a drastic change. Patients considered the increased paperwork such a hassle that the rules were temporarily scrapped and the law revised, she said.

The federal regulations have drawn criticism by patient advocates, who say the rules are deeply flawed and are suing to have them overturned.

AP-ES-04-23-03 1422EDT



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