House Gives Early Endorsement to Patient Privacy Bill

House lawmakers have given an early endorsement to Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s bill to protect Texans’ private medical information.  

Kolkhorst’s bill — one of the Public Health Committee chairwoman's top priorities this session — would ban the for-profit sale of personal health information without a patient’s consent, and set up a process for notifying patients of the electronic transfer of their medical records. Companies or providers who break the rules would be subject to heightened fines — up to $3,000 per violation — and legal damages up to $1.5 million.

"The attempt ... is to protect your health records as we move into the electronic age," Kolkhorst said. "This prohibits the sale of your most sensitive data."

Privacy advocates say the measure is a vast improvement over federal law that protects Texas patients from companies that illicitly collect, sell or misuse health data. Opponents, like some life and long-term care insurers, have feared the measure could hinder their ability to do business, or conflict with some elements of existing federal statute. 

Kolkhorst tacked on an amendment on Tuesday she said would "ensure regulations for life and disability insurers are not duplicative." 

The Senate has already passed a slightly less-restrictive medical privacy bill authored by Health and Human Services Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

Kolkhorst said her bill, which was an interim charge, is the result of months of hard work. The bill returns to the House for a final vote tomorrow. 

"We can say to our constituents that this is a great attempt in protecting their private data, their health records," she said. 

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