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Supreme Court rules federal government cannot be sued for sharing medical records

New Jersey recipients of SSDI benefits may be interested to know that the Privacy Act does not necessarily protect their medical records from being shared within government agencies. In a 5-3 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled late last month that the federal government is not liable for emotional distress caused by sharing medical information among agencies.

The case involved a California man who is HIV-positive. He received SSDI benefits based on his diagnosis, but never disclosed his HIV status to the Federal Aviation Administration when he applied for a pilot's license. At the time, those who tested positive were not allowed to obtain pilot's licenses.

The man's medical records were released when the FAA began an investigation to determine if pilots were using two separate sets of doctors. The FAA was concerned that one set of doctors was being used to verify the pilot's fitness to fly, and the other set to support disability claims. The FAA obtained the medical records of about 45,000 license applicants who lived in California from the Social Security Administration.

In 2007, the man sued the federal government. He claimed that the Privacy Act protected his medical records and that the SSA improperly released the records to the FAA without his consent.

The dissenting justices wrote that the ruling "cripples the Act's core purpose of redressing and deterring violations of privacy interests," effectively expanding the government's ability to share private information with impunity.

This case illustrates the kind of detailed and private information that is required on applications for SSDI. In many cases, it is best to rely on an attorney to determine what medical information is necessary to include on an application in order for an individual to begin receiving disability benefits.

Source: Boston.com, "Court: Man can't sue gov't over records sharing," Jesse J. Holland, March 28, 2012

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