Thursday, June 22, 2006

Texas Case Looks at HIPAA and State Public Information Laws

HIPAA privacy watchers will find the following Texas decision, Greg Abbott, Attorney General of the State of Texas v. Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, of interest.
The opinion issued by Honorable Patrick Keel of theTexas Court of Appeals, Third District, upheld a 2004 opinion by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott under Texas' public health reporting law.

The decision is summarized as follows:
A reporter made a public information request to the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (the "Department")asking for statistical information regarding allegations of abuse and subsequent investigations of abuse in state facilities and for the names of the facilities in which the alleged incidents occurred. The Department believed that the information could not be released because it was protected health information prohibited from disclosure by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") and asked the Attorney General to provide an opinion as to whether the information could be released. See Pub. L. 104-191, 110 Stat. 1936 (HIPAA codified in various sections of 8, 22, 26, 29 and 42 U.S.C.A.). The Attorney General concluded that the information was subject to disclosure by the Public Information Act, which requires the disclosure of public information in response to public requests. Tex. Gov't Code Ann. §§ 552.001-.353 (West 2004 & Supp. 2005) (Public Information Act). The Department contested the Attorney General's opinion and filed suit in district court. The district court concluded the information was confidential and not subject to disclosure. The Attorney General appeals the decision of the district court. We will reverse the judgment of the district court.

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