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In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is constitutional and provides fair notice and minimal guidelines to covered entities.

In the lawsuit, brought by the South Carolina Medical Association, the Physicians Care Network, and several individual doctors, the plaintiffs claimed that HIPAA violated constitutional rights because it was too vague in that it allows preemption of state laws that are more stringent, thus violating the Fifth Amendment right to due process. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the preemption clause of the law forces healthcare providers to make subjective judgments about whether a state law applies that could result in fines or jail time if those judgments were incorrect. The plaintiffs further argued that the government had failed to provide fair notice or minimal guidelines for doctors and insurance companies to follow.

The government opined that, though the law does pass constitutional muster, it is far too early to bring a case to court. The challenge of vagueness cannot be determined, according to the defense, because HIPAA has not been applied in a situation that would permit a fair assessment of its provisions.

The court ruled in favor of the government. While the law will require some "commonsense evaluations" on the part of covered entities, this does not mean that the law is vague or unconstitutional. According to the written opinion of the case, "... the regulations are sufficiently definite to give fair warning as to what will be considered a more stringent state privacy law." (South Carolina Medical Association et al v. Tommy O. Thompson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, No. 02-2001, 2003)
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Title Annotation:U.S. Judicial Decisions
Author:Anderson, Teresa
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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