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March 21, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Senate Passes Broad Medical Privacy Bill

AUSTIN - The Senate today passed a bill authored by Flower Mound Sen. Jane Nelson intended to protect the privacy of Texans' medical records.

The bill, the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 11, contains recommendations from an interim report of the Senate Health Services Committee.

In detailing the bill for her Senate colleagues, Nelson cited the example of an Austin woman who received a marketing letter encouraging her, because "menopause is the start of a new time," to switch brands of estrogen-replacement medication.

"This is an invasion of our privacy," Nelson said. "Our health is our business, and marketing companies should not be allowed to rifle through our medicine cabinets."

CSSB 11 specifies that medical records can be used for marketing only with the written permission of the patient. The bill includes provisions giving patients access to their medical records, the right to correct inaccurate information, the right to know how their medical records are being used and sets privacy standards in the area of medical research.

The bill also gives the Texas Department of Insurance the authority to set medical privacy rules for the insurance industry. In addition, the bill authorizes the Attorney General as well as individuals to sue to halt records from being shared without permission.

Several senators had questions about the bill's reach. Bryan Sen. Steve Ogden was particularly interested in the bill's impact on parents' rights to medical information about their children. Nelson and Waco Sen. David Sibley assured Ogden that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent parents from looking at their child's medical records.

CSSB 11 was finally passed on a voice vote.

The Senate voted to pass several other bills in session today, including CSSB 799, a proposal authored by Lubbock Sen. Robert Duncan that would create an exit interview questionnaire to be completed by employees leaving state agencies. An amendment by El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh was added to the bill that would protect the anonymity of departing employees when the information is passed to the agency they are leaving.

The Senate also voted to confirm Gov. Rick Perry's appointees to several state positions, including Don A. Gilbert, who was reappointed for another term as commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In other Senate news, the Criminal Justice Committee had a full schedule in the afternoon, with 10 separate bills dealing with sex offenders on the committee agenda. And the Border Affairs Subcommittee of the Business and Commerce Committee was scheduled to hear a pair of bills authored by Brownsville Sen. Eddie Lucio focusing on border-area trade.

The Senate is in recess until 8 a.m. Thursday, when it will take up bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar. After that, the Senate will stand adjourned until 11 a.m.

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