Is a lead paint violation notice covered by HIPAA or by state disclosure laws?

The Ohio Supreme Court is going to rule on whether state disclosure laws overrule the federal HIPAA mandates for protecting patient privacy. This may be one of the first rulings on the HIPAA regulations and should help establish precedent for exactly when state laws should rule instead of federal law.

The newspaper’s attorney, Jack Greiner, argues that the open-records law wins. Guidance by federal attorneys says that when a records law mandates disclosure, rather than just permit it, the state law takes precedence.

Are lead paint violation notices really covered by HIPAA?

“The Health Department was concerned about the potential for civil and criminal penalties for the violation of this somewhat vague and confusing … mandate,” Nestor said.

Both sides in the case, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, knew of only two similar cases in Texas and Kentucky. Attorneys general in both states said the public-records law takes precedence, but both those cases dealt with records requests to police agencies, which don’t count as health care entities under the federal rule.

Greiner says the records are essential for the public to know where public health hazards are, and whether the Health Department is acting on them.

A ruling to seal the lead citations could hamper investigative reporting, public-records advocates say.

“This would have a chilling effect in the release of more general information, and that would be a shame because it would deny communities information that would clearly be in the public interest,” said Frank Deaner, lobbyist for the Ohio Newspaper Association.

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