Friday, April 13, 2001

Bush to implement
medical privacy rules
that supersede state’s

The issue: The Bush administration has
decided to implement medical privacy
rules approved by President Clinton,
making Hawaii's pending state
rules unnecessary.

MEDICAL privacy safeguards went into effect briefly in Hawaii last year before being shelved in a special session of the Legislature because of confusion and concern about their requirements. They were rescheduled to take effect this July 1, a deferral intended to give legislators an opportunity to perform corrective surgery.

That is no longer necessary because President Bush has decided to implement federal rules on medical privacy drawn up by the Clinton administration.

Signed into law by Governor Cayetano two years ago, the state rules ignited what Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono called "widespread confusion and anxiety" as soon as they took effect last July 1. Hirono complained that the rules required enormous paperwork and paralyzed the medical community and insurance companies. Legislators put off their effective date by one year, asking a task force to study the situation and make recommendations.

Similar concerns were expressed about the sweeping federal rules approved by President Clinton in the final days of his administration.

For example, pharmacists said they would require written consent from a patient whose doctor phones in a prescription. Doctors complained that they would increase costs without improving health care of patients.

The Bush administration has decided to immediately implement the rules, with some changes. Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said doctors will be allowed to share information with specialists, satisfying one of their chief concerns, and pharmacists can fill prescriptions ordered over the phone. Parents will have the right to information about their children's health, including abortion records; Clinton had left such decisions to doctors and hospitals unless state law directed otherwise. More substantive changes sought by the health-care industry were rejected.

"We have laws in this country to protect the personal information contained in bank, credit card and other financial records," Thompson said. "Our citizens must not wait any longer for protection of the most personal of all information -- their health records."

Thompson will be able to make changes in the rules during the next year. State legislators now can repeal the state rules with the assurance -- and relief -- that further complaints about medical privacy rules will be directed at the federal government.

State needs to re-think
Good Friday holiday

The issue: Although Good Friday is
a state holiday and day off for
government workers, its roots
are in a specific religion.

Although the state contends that religion isn't the basis for declaring Good Friday a holiday, Its Christian connection makes it a cause for some concern. The Legislature should reconsider this evident mixing of church and state.

Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and precedes Easter Sunday, when Christians celebrate his resurrection. That Good Friday is a sanctioned holiday, however, gives the appearance that the state is lending validity of one religion over others.

In 1987, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the holiday in Hawaii, contending that the designation violated the constitutionally required separation of church and state. But a federal judge ruled against the ACLU, suggesting that Good Friday's widespread observance has transcended religious purposes, similar to the Christmas holiday.

An appeals court upheld the ruling and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the matter not only in Hawaii's case, but in other challenges in Indiana and Maryland, two of the other 14 states that recognize the holiday.

The state attorney general's office contends that even though the roots of the holiday are Christian, its has evolved into just another day off for many workers. Further, in that line of thinking, those who observe the tradition for Good Friday would likely take the day off anyway, so it makes sense to declare the holiday.

Deputy Attorney General Girard Lau suggests the official name of the holiday may be more of a problem than the holiday itself. He says it is up to the state Legislature to rename it, but that hasn't been a priority for lawmakers recently.

Perhaps some constitutionally minded member of that body should revive the question.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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