Back to class on medical privacy

An editorial in the Detroit Free Press:

There’s a lesson for state lawmakers in a dispute brewing between a tiny Van Buren County school district and the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. The Lawton district and the MEA are at odds over the limits of a recent Michigan law allowing school districts to seek competitive health insurance bids. The district maintains it operated within the confines of that law by asking school support employees to complete a personal health history survey as part of an effort to seek a new insurance bid.

Not true, says the MEA. In fact, the union claims the survey is a potential invasion of privacy, because it asked such questions as whether workers had been treated in the past 10 years for various illnesses, including allergies and AIDS.

Federal law sets clear limits on medical privacy. The questions for Michigan lawmakers are whether last year’s Public Act 106 has clear enough privacy protections — or whether the Lawton dispute is just the first of a slew to come. Legislators may need to go so far as informational sessions with concerned school leaders, or an attorney general’s opinion should be sought on the parameters of the new law.

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