NY's highest court rules HIPAA trumps Kendra's law

Alison Frankel of Reuters reports:

U.S. privacy laws bar release of a mental health patient’s records as part of an effort to compel outpatient treatment unless the disclosure is authorized by the patient or a court, the New York Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.

It was the first time a state’s highest court had ruled on the scope of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) Act’s privacy provisions in an involuntary mental health treatment proceeding, said the patient’s lawyers, Scott M. Wells and Dennis Feld of the New York Mental Hygiene Legal Services.

The ruling was In the Matter of Miguel M. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sought in 2007 to compel Miguel M. to receive mental health treatment under Kendra’s Law, a 1999 New York statute that permits public officials to demand outpatient treatment orders for mental health patients who have been hospitalized after failing to comply with treatment plans.

At the Supreme Court hearing on Miguel M.’s treatment order, counsel for the city asked to introduce into evidence records of the patient’s two recent hospitalizations for schizoaffective disorder. Although the city conceded that the records had been obtained without the patient’s consent or a court order, it argued that the disclosure was permissible under Kendra’s Law.

Miguel M.’s counsel opposed the introduction of his hospital records, citing HIPAA’s privacy strictures. After briefing on the question, the trial court admitted the records, finding that HIPAA permits the disclosure under a provision authorizing public health officials to collect information in order to prevent disease or injury or to conduct a public health investigation or intervention. An intermediate appellate court upheld the ruling.

But in Tuesday’s decision, the Court of Appeals found that neither of those exceptions to HIPAA’s presumption of privacy apply in this case.

Read more on Reuters.

I’m really pleased to see this decision.

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