Wed, 06 Dec 2023

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a lawsuit against IU Health on Friday, accusing the health network of violating privacy laws after their doctor spoke to the press about a 10-year old girl who traveled to the state for an abortion.

The original case made national news after reports that a 10-year old girl from Ohio traveled to Indiana to obtain an abortion, because she was unable to obtain the procedure due to her own state's restrictions.

This spawned several legal battles, including Rokita going after Dr. Caitlin Bernard for speaking to the press about the young patient, and the doctor suing Rokita over what she said were unfair investigations into the care she provided.

These legal proceedings culminated in a decision by the Indiana Medical Licensing Board to fine Bernard $3,000 and issue her a letter of reprimand.

Specifically, the board found Bernard had violated the patient's privacy by divulging too much information about the child's medical care to the reporter.

Importantly, the ruling cleared her of charges that she failed to properly report the child's abuse to Indiana authorities and left her medical license in good standing.  

Also, prior to the medical board's ruling, a federal court found that Rokita himself had violated the law by making public statements about Bernard prior to referring the case to the state's medical licensing board.

After the ruling, many health professionals came out in support of Bernard, including her employer IU Health who issued a statement disagreeing with the board.

"We appreciate the Medical Licensing Board's time dedicated to understanding the issues involving our colleague Dr. Caitlin Bernard. We are pleased she will continue to be a member of our medical team and provide compassionate care to her patients. We do not agree with the board's decision regarding patient privacy regulations and stand by the HIPAA risk assessment. We believe Dr. Bernard was compliant with privacy laws."

This is central to Rokita's current lawsuit, because he claims the public statement by IU Health creates confusion because it directly disagrees with the medical board's determination.

"By publicly contradicting the Medical Licensing Board and contending the doctor's actions were 'in compliance with privacy laws,' IU Health has caused confusion among its 36,000-member workforce regarding what conduct is permitted not only under HIPAA privacy laws and the Indiana Patient Confidentiality rule, and as a result, as Indiana's largest health network, they created an environment that threatens the privacy of its Indiana patients," Rokita's office said in a statement.

Rokita also claims that IU Health failed to document Bernard's unauthorized disclosure of patient information to a colleague at a political rally they attended, and that they failed to notify the 10-year old patient or parent that a breach of privacy had occurred.

Rokita seeks a permanent injunction against the health network requiring them to comply with all HIPAA and state privacy laws and prevents them from "ratifying the HIPPA violations of its workforce."

After a request for comment on the lawsuit, a spokesperson for IU health gave the following statement.

"At IU Health, we hold ourselves accountable every day for providing quality health care and securing privacy for our patients. We continue to be disappointed the Indiana Attorney General's office persists in putting the state's limited resources toward this matter. We will respond directly to the AG's office on the filing. "

Despite being central to the claims, Bernard is not a defendant in the lawsuit and issued a statement in late August after deciding to not appeal the medical licensing board's decision.

"My goal has always been to protect and support my fellow medical providers and people who need medical care, including abortions. I want to make it clear that my case should not create a precedent that allows politicians to go after physicians who provide reproductive care or any other care that politicians disagree with. I am hopeful that my example shows how important it is for medical providers to be brave advocates and speak up when needed. At this point, I have no confidence that an appeal would change the outcome of this decision," Bernard said.

Source: Courthouse News Service

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