WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s doctor leaned on a federal health privacy law Monday to duck certain questions about the president’s treatment for COVID-19, while readily sharing other details of his patient’s condition.
But a leading expert on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act said a more likely reason for Dr. Sean Conley’s selective disclosures appears to be Trump’s comfort level in fully revealing his medical information.
“That’s a little head-scratcher,” said Deven McGraw, a former career government lawyer who oversaw enforcement of the 1996 medical privacy statute. “It’s quite possible the doctor sat down with the president and asked which information is OK to disclose.”
At a press briefing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Conley, the White House physician, reported the president’s blood pressure — a little high at 134/78 — and respiration and heart rates, which were both in the normal ranges.
But when reporters pressed for details on the results of lung scans and when Trump had last tested negative for COVID-19, the doctor demurred, citing HIPAA, as the law is commonly known.
“There is no special protection for lung scans,” McGraw pointed out.
“It really is what the president authorizes to be disclosed,” she explained. “So I am going to have to assume there was a judgment call on what information the president was comfortable releasing to the public.”
The selective disclosure raised more questions about what the president’s doctors aren’t telling the public. Trump returned to the White House later Monday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it’s “disconcerting” that information coming from Trump’s physicians “must be approved by the president.”
Pronounced “hippah,” the law essentially prohibits disclosure of a person’s medical information without their consent. Many people hear about HIPAA when they call the hospital seeking information about the condition of a relative and they’re told they can’t have it because of the law.