Feds to Investigate Porn Industry Testing Clinic for Privacy Breaches

Interesting press release from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation:

In response to a formal written complaint alleging sweeping violations of federal patient confidentiality laws filed by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has decided to open an investigation of the Adult Industry Medical (AIM) HealthCare Foundation, a Los Angeles area HIV testing clinic funded by and serving the adult film industry. The federal investigation will focus on alleged privacy breaches of clinic patients and adult film actors whose health information was routinely released to producers in the adult industry. In its complaint to HHS filed earlier this year, AHF officials asserted AIM’s release of clinic patient data on HIV and STD infections via an online database violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other federal and state laws. In its decision to investigate AHF’s complaint, the Department of Health and Human Services wrote: “Your allegation could reflect a violation of the general rules for impermissible uses and disclosures of protected health information at 45 C.F.R., Section 164.502 (a).” HHS’ letter also stated “Based on the facts that you have alleged we have decided to accept your case for investigation.”

“AIM’s testing clinic has long been the industry’s fig leaf attempt at self-regulation. In fact, AIM is simply a ploy to deflect needed public scrutiny and responsible government regulation–a ploy that is perpetrated at the expense of the actors’ health and privacy rights. We thank HHS for its decision to open a formal investigation of AIM regarding breaches of patient confidentiality and are confident that the HHS’ investigation will confirm our allegations,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “If the adult film industry required actors to use condoms during all filming, an action that would safeguard the physical health and safety of actors, there would likely not be such privacy violations of clinic patient data.”

In late February, AHF officials sent a letter to state and federal health agencies asking for an investigation into AIM’s Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation’s apparent practice of disclosing highly confidential HIV & STD test results to porn producers in order for the performers to be cleared to work. In early March, advocates from AHF hosted a protest in front of AIM’s Sherman Oaks clinic to highlight the contradiction between AIM officials zealously blocking the release of any patient data to state workplace safety officials while simultaneously making this same patient data readily available to adult film producers.

AHF’s complaint asserts that AIM requires its patients to sign an overly broad—and what AHF believes is illegal—consent form for its HIV and STD testing services as well as the subsequent release of patient information. AIM in turn then charges adult film producers an annual fee to access its online database of AIM patient test results; ironically, at the same time, AIM has been withholding the same crucial data on HIV and STD infections of clinic patients from Cal/OSHA officials charged with investigating workplace safety who are trying to use the data to more precisely track and address a recent outbreak of HIV in the industry.

During the March protest at AIM’s Sherman Oaks clinic, Whitney Engeran-Cordova, Director of AHF’s Public Health Division, said, “AIM simply can’t have it both ways: they can’t say on one hand that they are protecting patients’ privacy rights from the prying eyes of state workplace safety officials, while on the other hand, they apparently violate this same confidentiality through the release of the same patient information via its paid subscription online database available to adult industry film producers.”

AHF’s actions to improve worker safety in the adult film industry by requiring performers to use condoms has been prompted by an ongoing epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) in California’s adult film industry. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH), workers in the adult film industry are ten times more likely to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease than members of the population at large. LADPH documented 2,013 individual cases of chlamydia and 965 cases of gonorrhea among workers between the years 2003 and 2007. LADPH has observed that many workers suffer multiple infections, with some performers having four or more separate infections over the course of a year. In addition, LADPH has stated that as many as 25 industry-related cases of HIV have been reported since 2004.

Thanks to the reader who sent in the link to this release.

About the author: Dissent