Does the Federal Health Information Privacy Law Protect President Trump?

khn.org
7 min read
fairly difficult
The president's doctors have used HIPAA — the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — as a shield to avoid questions about the president's COVID-19 diagnosis.
This story can be republished for free ( details ). This story also ran on PolitiFact

Within one day, President Donald Trump announced his COVID diagnosis and was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment. The flurry of events was stunning, confusing and triggered many questions. What was his prognosis? When was he last tested for COVID-19? What is his viral load?

The answers were elusive.

Picture the scene on Oct. 5. White House physician Dr. Sean Conley, flanked by other members of Trump's medical team, met with reporters outside the hospital. But Conley would not disclose the results of the president's lung scans and other vital information, invoking a federal law he said allows him to selectively provide intel on the president's health.

"There are HIPAA rules and regulations that restrict me in sharing certain things for his safety and his own health," he told the reporters.

The law he's referring to, HIPAA, is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which includes privacy protections designed to shield personal health information from disclosure without a patient's consent.

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Because this is likely to remain an issue, we decided to take a look. In what cases does HIPAA restrict the sharing of information — and is the president covered by it?

Experts agreed that he is, but several noted there are exceptions to its protections — stirring debate over the airwaves and on Twitter regarding what information about the president's health should be released.

Explaining the Protections

HIPAA and the rules for its implementation apply to medical providers — such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists, hospitals — and most health plans that either provide or pay for medical care.

In some cases, the law permits the sharing of medical information without specific consent, such as when needed for treatment purposes or billing. Examples include doctors or…
Julie Appleby, Victoria Knight
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