Medical Privacy Law Does Not Apply to Police Reports, Ky. Attorney General Says

August 29, 2004

The federal medical privacy law that went into effect last year does not apply to names of injured people mentioned in police reports, the Kentucky attorney general’s office has ruled.

The ruling addresses the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, which went into effect in April 2003.

The next month, Covington police adopted a policy of not releasing the names of injured people. On several occasions, police also did not release the names of people who were fatally shot, The Kentucky Enquirer reported Friday. The Enquirer had sought the attorney general’s opinion.

“The attorney general got it precisely right on the conclusion that (HIPAA) does not impose a barrier to the average citizen’s right and ability to discover how well the public is being served by our local police departments,” said Paul Alley, the newspaper’s First Amendment lawyer.

Newport officials have also declined to release the information since HIPAA went into effect.

When informed Thursday of the opinion, Newport officials said they would immediately re-evaluate their open records policy. Covington City Solicitor Jay Fossett said the city would try to comply with the attorney general’s opinion as it evaluates whether to appeal the decision.

“Again, this is all about protecting the city from liability,” he said. “We are not trying to hide anything.”

Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo is only the second state attorney general to release an opinion on HIPAA, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists. The Texas attorney general ruled in February that the state’s public information law takes precedence over HIPAA.

In an 11-page opinion released Wednesday, Stumbo wrote that disclosure of the identities of the injured people provides opportunity for public review of the manner in which the police carry out the public business of law enforcement and crime investigation. He wrote that his office has consistently recognized that a public agency cannot adopt a policy of blanket nondisclosure of records revealing victims’ identities.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribute.

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