Senate Unanimous in Bill Protecting Student Medical Records
Partisan animosity broke down in Salem on Presidents’ Day, as Republicans frustrated by the Democratic agenda turned to D.C.-style delaying tactics, forcing House and Senate clerks to read, verbatim, dozens of pages of legalese in each bill before it could come to a vote.
But the Senate still managed to unanimously pass a bipartisan bill that closes a critical gap in medical privacy -- forcing university-based health providers to abide by the same confidentiality rules as off-campus providers.
“I think it’s critical to have this bill,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “We want to be sure that college students have as much right to their privacy as other patients.”
Senate Bill 1558 allows university or college health centers, mental health centers and counseling centers to share patient medical information with someone at the university only if they have the right to access that information off-campus -- a high legal bar.
“Students will have the same expectation of privacy on-campus as off-campus,” said Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, the bill’s chief sponsor.
She told The Lund Report that the bill was necessary because campus health records can sometimes be classified as student records under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and not protected under the more ironclad medical privacy law, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. And whereas HIPAA medical records come with them a strong guarantee of privacy, FERPA student records can be viewed by university administrators in certain circumstances.
The demand for the bill was spurred by a notorious case involving the University of Oregon and a student who alleged she’d been raped by members of the basketball team. The woman sued the school, and the university ordered the school’s counseling center to turn over her therapy records to try to disprove her case of emotional distress.
“Information was disclosed to people who would not normally have access to it, and should not have access to that,” Knopp said.
The Oregon case stirred a national debate over the confidentiality expectations of college counseling centers, and caused a former North Carolina law professor to advise against students utilizing them in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
A bill passed in 2015 already closed this privacy loophole for counseling in cases of sexual assault, but Gelser told The Lund Report that bill was narrowly focused, and a new bill was necessary to provide broad protections for medical records at university health and counseling centers.
SB 1558 was strongly backed by both the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Oregon Psychological Association, which asserted that “without a requirement for confidentiality of records, individuals who are in need of mental health treatment will be less likely to seek these services.”