President Trump’s emergency rush to embrace technology helps a lot more people than he ever could have imagined. Americans with a particularly isolating disability have been demanding remote access to medical services for years, but the crippling bureaucratic snarl of HIPPAA blocked the way. With a wave of his pen, President Trump’s battle orders slashed through the endless tangle of red tape.
Emergency order helps the chronically isolated
President Donald Trump doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the way he helps ordinary Americans, any way he can. The current virus crisis underscores his unprecedented efforts to rip down bureaucratic barriers. One executive order had a bonus effect that nobody would have imagined. A few words from the president recently chopped through a jungle of regulations that chemically sensitive “canaries” have been helplessly hacking away at for years.
Ever since the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act went into effect in 1996, Americans have been walled off from electronically talking to their doctors by endless legal restrictions. President Trump came up with a brilliant idea. He suspended enforcement of the privacy provisions for the “good faith” use of technology so it can be used for telemedicine.
Patients can now use familiar electronic communication apps like email and Skype to interact with their healthcare providers in real time, without exposing healthcare staff to infection. This also means that patients who become ill from exposure to the chemicals, which are ever present in medical facilities, don’t have to face them.
Canaries in the chemical coal mine
More than one third of Americans are sensitive to common chemicals like air fresheners and cleaning products, as well as detergents, shampoos, and anything with a fragrance. A large and growing number of those afflicted by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) are so sensitive they cannot tolerate interacting with society and live in total isolation. They call themselves “canaries” after the original early warning system used in coal mines. If the canary fell over, the air was unsafe. When human canaries fall over, they can’t even see a doctor. Many of them say, “doctors make me sick.” That’s why this order helps so much. Telemedicine is an idea that’s long overdue.
Under the loosened restrictions, patients and doctors are allowed to “utilize telehealth across state lines.” They can “provide services, even though they are not licensed to practice in those states.” In order to accomplish that legally, “HHS also waived HIPAA (privacy) penalties to allow healthcare providers to care for patients using telehealth.”
“We are empowering medical providers to serve patients wherever they are during this national public health emergency. We are especially concerned about reaching those most at risk, including older persons and persons with disabilities,” Health and Human Services Civil Rights director Roger Severino wrote in a press release.
The laws are still in effect, they just won’t be enforced in cases where the breaches occur in “good faith.” According to the release, “OCR will exercise its enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties for noncompliance with the regulatory requirements under the HIPAA Rules against covered health care providers in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. This notification is effective immediately.”
One of the things that should become a top priority for our nation’s health officials is to make this a permanent change. Millions of Americans will benefit from it.