ABC 15 Arizona by Dave Biscobing
April 27, 2020
Arizona officials in multiple agencies are unlawfully withholding data, statistics, and information regarding COVID-19 outbreaks and abusing health privacy laws, according to top experts in public information and health privacy.
The experts said one of the most notable violations involves Governor Doug Ducey, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, and Maricopa County Health Department Director Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine. All three are refusing to release the names and locations of long-term care facilities with positive coronavirus cases.
Another egregious example: The Arizona Department of Corrections denying requests for the total number and prison locations of correctional officers who have tested positive.
Both are statistics and information being released by other states.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. It’s using HIPAA as a big giant fig leaf without any justification at all,” said Pamela Marsh, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation and former U.S. Attorney of the District of North Florida. “In times when our governors have declared states of emergencies because of a health pandemic, when else is the information necessary for public health? This has to be the moment.”
ABC15 interviewed Marsh and three other experts for this report. They include: David Bodney, a prominent First Amendment attorney based in Phoenix; Dan Barr, another Phoenix attorney with a long history of fighting for public access and records; and I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law professor who studies health law and privacy
The experts believe local and state government officials are twisting and abusing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act during the COVID-19 pandemic by failing to release broad numbers and locations of outbreaks.
HIPAA specifically prohibits the release of an individual’s personal private health information.