Now a defender of personal freedom, Mastriano wanted to lift privacy rules in pandemic’s early days
In March 2020, Doug Mastriano was a back-bench Republican state senator who was a year into his first term after winning a central Pennsylvania special election. In a series of press releases, legislative memos and interviews throughout March 2020, Mastriano proposed the state and the federal government roll back medical privacy protections for COVID-19 patients. Doctors and employers typically cannot disclose medical information to anyone other than the patient without their consent under a mix of federal laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, popularly known as HIPAA. “We have to protect their privacy, but when it comes to a contagious disease, we should be able to know, ‘yes, this person had it,’ and so then the word will go out if I’ve had contact with him or her,” Mastriano told ABC-27 in Harrisburg at the time. Researchers, as well as Mastriano’s opponents, have pointed out that this stance on medical privacy is, at best, off base, and at worst, dangerous. “Directing the government to broadcast the personal medical information of private citizens is a dangerous idea that should never even be considered,” Tim Murtaugh, an advisor to gubernatorial rival Lou Barletta, said in a statement to the Capital-Star. At the time of the interview, the staffer didn’t have a result. The current disease control law “allows the Health Department to keep records and reports of contagious diseases strictly confidential. Many of these statements also were no longer on Mastriano’s official state website as of March 2022. “We have to give people safe spaces to be tested and treated without our neighbors peeking in the windows,” she said. The suspension applied not just to COVID-19 cases, but to anyone seeking treatment. And even in that small span of time, Dixon noted, people were hurt by revoking HIPAA. But at the rally, Mastriano’s embrace of his new identity as a warrior for personal freedom appeared complete.
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