What’s going on with Donald Trump?
We all recently watched a 74-year-old, overweight and out of shape man, with an admittedly terrible diet, contract, get hospitalized, and then apparently recover from COVID-19, all in the span of about 4 days. Under normal circumstances, this would raise an eyebrow because we’ve all been conditioned to believe this disease is particularly brutal on patients matching those demographics. But that’s not what’s most compelling about this case. This case happens to involve the President of the United States, and the “need to know” surrounding the circumstances is butting right up against our legal rights.
Here’s the bottom line truth of the matter. There is only one person who has the right to disclose your health information – and that’s you. It’s as true for the front desk receptionist as it is for the President of the United States. For better or for worse, neither HIPAA nor any other law provides for the specific disclosure of health information as it relates to key personnel. The only caveat to that, as many of us have learned, is when the public health is at risk. In the case of President Trump, we can’t really apply that area of HIPAA to pressure his doctors into disclosing his condition to the general public.
In fact, it can be argued that Donald Trump’s team of doctors went beyond their legal limitations with the comments they have made and the press conferences they have held. Without Trump’s specific authorization (in writing we would hope), they technically can’t say much of anything about his condition.
So where does that leave us? In reality, it’s up to him to share what he wants, or to authorize his doctors to release the information. Sure, there’s the 25th Amendment, which Nancy Pelosi has recently discussed, but the mechanizations involved in that are really not about health information disclosure. So while the 25th Amendment may help to remove a sitting president, it won’t help to understand his current health status.
We all believe we have a right to know what’s happening with President Trump’s health. For some, it’s to show that we really do have a handle on treating COVID-19 and we no longer need to be fearful. For others, it’s a legitimate concern that Trump may be suffering from the medications he received or from some of the long term mental and physical ailments displayed in other patients, and is therefore compromised.
It could just be this situation has exposed a weakness in our current privacy laws that need to be addressed through further legislation. What do you think? Email me at email@example.com with your thoughts.
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