Ann Waldo

Ann Waldo is a partner in the law firm of Wittie, Letsche & Waldo, LLP, providing legal counsel, public policy, and government advocacy on privacy, information management, and health policy. She focuses on HIPAA/HITECH and consumer health privacy and is particularly interested in novel issues involving heath information exchange, HIT, and innovation. She has extensive experience in privacy, having served as Chief Privacy Officer for two global companies. She graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law with high honors in 1995.

Hawaii and health care: A small state takes a giant step forward

Hawaii's new law cuts through health care complexity. It's a move that should be lauded and copied.

Knots by Uncle Catherine, on FlickrIn an era characterized by political polarization and legislative stalemate, the tiny state of Hawaii has just demonstrated extraordinary leadership. The rest of the country should now recognize, applaud, and most of all, learn from Hawaii’s accomplishment.

Hawaii enacted a new law that harmonizes its state medical privacy laws with HIPAA, the federal medical privacy law. Hawaii’s legislators and governor, along with an impressive array of patient groups, health care providers, insurance companies, and health information technologists, agreed that having dozens of unique Hawaii medical privacy laws in addition to HIPAA was confusing, expensive, and bad for patients. HB 1957 thus eliminates the need for entities covered by HIPAA to also comply with Hawaii’s complex array of medical privacy laws.

How did this thicket of state medical privacy laws arise?

Hawaii’s knotty web of state medical privacy laws is not unique. There are vast numbers of state health privacy laws across the country — certainly many hundreds, likely thousands. Hawaii alone has more than 50. Most were enacted before HIPAA, which helps explain why there are so many; when no federal guarantee of health privacy existed, states took action to protect their constituents from improper invasions of their medical privacy. These laws grew helter-skelter over decades. For example, particularly restrictive laws were enacted after inappropriate and traumatizing disclosures of HIV status during the 1980s.

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