After the horrific shootings in the gay dance nightclub that killed 49 individuals, 53 survivors were rushed to surrounding hospitals. In the hours that followed family members anxiously sought updates about their loved ones. Yet, confusion over the privacy rules that govern health information prevented them from getting immediate access to what they surely needed to know. Confusion was not restricted to hospital staff. Reporters and political officials alike were confused about what the law permitted.
This is not the first time that HIPAA related confusion affected a gay patient: in 2010 President Obama took steps to address anti-gay discrimination when Janice Langbehn was denied visitation and updates about her partner’s condition in a Florida hospital.
Rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) generally prohibit release of patient information without their explicit consent. The CEO of the Orlando Regional Medical Center reportedly asked Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer for a HIPAA “waiver” so that the victims’ loved ones could be informed of their condition. The Mayor sought such a waiver from the White House.
Numerous news outlets reported that the mayor had received his waiver. One outlet called this waiver “unique.” By declaring a “national emergency,” it explained, “President Barack Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell made it easier for family and friends to gain quicker access to information—the right move in such a circumstance.