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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.

Out of state appeals court could provide clues to HIPAA issue

The headlines read: “Ohio open-records law trumps federal health-data secrecy.” In the article, appearing in the Columbus Dispatch, it says the Ohio law guaranteeing people access to government records outranks the federal HIPPA law, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last week.

While some may say that comparing Ohio and Texas is like comparing apples and oranges, it is the first case of its kind that has established case law on the issue—at least that I can find.

The Cincinnati case involved a newspaper’s request to view lead-paint citations issued by the local health department, justices ruled unanimously that federal privacy guidelines can’t be used to seal records that are public under state law.

Fort Bend County Clerk Dianne Wilson, who came under fire prior to the primary election last month, for posting public information, including some records that contain medical information, on the Internet, has maintained that Texas law governing open records clearly conflicts with the federal law established to protect medical information.

The Ohio ruling could have nationwide impact, reporters there said.

Wilson maintains that state officials have indicated the county does not fall under HIPPA rules. Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers who has indicated he believes that federal law supercedes Texas law, said in a recent interview that no court cases have gone on to appeals court in Texas and therefore no case law has been established.

Now it appears that at least one entity has established a state vs. federal government case that could prove to be the norm nationwide.

In the meantime, the last I heard, the county will most likely move forward with plans to spend more money to determine if various county agencies, including Wilson’s, are in compliance with the law. So far, we’ve spent $4,000 to study the issue, but more study is needed, some say.

Maybe if we are lucky the Ohio decision will shed a different light on the subject before too much is spent figuring it all out.


Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  September 07, 2006