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Vaccine opponents appear increasingly confused about HIPAA

Vaccine opponents keep referencing HIPAA, but the law doesn't say what they think it says.


At an unnerving press conference last week, a reporter asked Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) whether she's has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The right-wing congresswoman replied, "You see, with HIPAA rights, we don't have to reveal our medical records, and that also involves our vaccine records."

The Republican's tone suggested she saw herself as an expert in matters related to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and she was eager to lecture the reporter about the subject.

The problem, of course, was that Greene had no idea what she was talking about.

A week earlier, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson (R) said door-to-door vaccination information outreach might be "illegal" under HIPAA. That didn't make sense, either.

Alas, the Republicans aren't alone. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott spoke at a press conference of his own last week and was also asked about whether he's received a COVID-19 vaccine. "I don't necessarily think that's exactly important," the athlete said, adding, "I think that's HIPAA."

No, it's really not.

In case this isn't obvious, let's take a moment to shine a light on reality. HIPAA, which has been federal law for the last 25 years, relates to health privacy, but as the New York Times explained late last week:

The law applies only to companies and professionals in the health care field, although some people may incorrectly imply otherwise, as Ms. Greene did in suggesting that the measure offered Fifth Amendment-like protection against revealing personal health information.... [N]othing in the law prohibits asking about someone's health, be it vaccination status or proof that such information is accurate.

If someone called your personal physician asking for details from your medical records, HIPAA would prevent him or her from sharing that information without your approval.

But the law does not create a blanket prohibition on someone being asked about their health. In the case of Marjorie Taylor Greene, HIPAA doesn't create a "right" that makes a reporter's question improper.

Journalists can ask people about whether they've been vaccinated. So can employers. So can store owners make inquiries of customers.

Those who insist that HIPAA shields them from questions they're embarrassed to answer are mistaken.