State delves into employee info

October 16, 2009 3:22:31 PM PDT
Many state employees were already hot under the collar because their health benefits will be limited for those who smoke or are overweight. Now, they're learning North Carolina did an end run around federal privacy rules to get that information.Some are now questioning if the exemption for federal HIPAA rules means their privacy is no longer protected.

"I'm somewhat shocked, really, because the next thing they'll be exempting is our right to privacy. And I thought we had with, you know, with HIPAA," offered state worker April Howell.

More than 50,000 government workers are represented by the State Employees Association of North Carolina. SEANC fought against the change in health benefits saying the new state health plan discriminates.

"In fact, that's why they had to apply for the waiver - to discriminate against state employees because that was prohibited under HIPAA," said Toni Davis with SEANC.

Davis was not surprised so many state workers are asking questions about the HIPAA exemption.

Officials with the state health plan told ABC11 that while their legal staff knows the answers to those questions, they want to boil those answers down to plain English before presenting them to state workers next week.

But SEANC officials say they know the answer - especially when it comes to whether the exemption will affect the privacy of state employees' medical records.

"It's just a slippery road, and you don't know where that road is going to end," said Davis.

And that's a big concern for state employee Karly Gillis. She says she less concerned about the insurance benefit consequences of being an overweight smoker than she is about any potential loss of privacy.

"My health is my private information that nobody else should be able to get any information on," she said.

So Gillis, Howell, and many other state workers will anxiously await answers to their questions about the HIPAA exemption from officials with the state health plan.

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