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RTNDA Pushes for Medical Info

Radio-Television News Directors Association president Barbara Cochran is testifying at the Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday, asking that the government ease the restraints that medical-record-privacy protections have put on newsgathering.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was passed in 1996 to facilitate the electronic transmission of medical information, but despite journalist's protests, privacy protections in the act that took effectin april 2003 made it much harder to obtain news of the status of victims of crimes, fires, accidents or other disasters. "There are times when there has been a school bus crash or a fire," says Cochran, "and the community looks to the news media to find out who was hurt and their condition. we haven't been able to get that information."

Cochran told HHS that journalists had been "crippled" in their ability to relate important information.

"Because of HIPAA, the public record is shrinking to include only sterile statistical reports and dry recitations of events stripped of the human element. A report that a 2-year-old girl was shot dead in her bed by a stray bullet emanating from gang violence may be reduced to a report saying that a victim was taken to the hospital with a critical wound, if that," she told the department.RTNDA wants a carve-out so that basic medial information can be released to the press and public.Editor's note: If sports fans out there have wondered why TV and radio announcers no longer give out the status of players injured on the field, it's the same HIPAA regulations.