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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., talks to the media about her suspended Twitter accounts. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., talks to the media about her suspended Twitter accounts. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., talks to the media about her suspended Twitter accounts. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 21, 2021

Marjorie Taylor Greene says HIPAA shields her from vaccination questions. It doesn’t.

If Your Time is short

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said that questions about her vaccination status violate her HIPAA rights.

  • HIPAA bars health care providers and insurers from sharing medical records without permission. It does not shield a person from questions about their medical information.

  • Greene works for the public, and employers are free to ask about vaccination status.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has been an outspoken critic of vaccines and masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. After she tweeted that the disease was a threat only to people who are obese or over 65 — very inaccurate medical guidance — Twitter banned her for 12 hours.

Greene held a news conference and was promptly asked if she herself was vaccinated.

"Your first question is a violation of my HIPAA rights," Greene said July 20. "You see, with HIPAA rights, we don’t have to reveal our medical records, and that also involves our vaccine records."

HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and it contains rules governing the privacy of medical information. 

But the law has no bearing on whether Greene can be asked about her medical history, according to both legal experts and official HIPAA guidelines. Whether she answers is a matter of personal choice, not the law.

The U.S. Health and Human Service Department summarizes HIPAA as setting "rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information." This mainly targets insurance companies and health care providers, which are among the parties the law calls "covered entities." These entities can’t share your health records without your permission. If they do, they face stiff penalties. 

Notably, employers are not on the list of covered entities.

Greene described HIPAA as though it conferred a special protection against being asked about her medical history. Mark Rothstein, a University of Louisville law professor specializing in HIPAA, said Greene is mistaken.

"It is not a general shield that permits individuals to avoid disclosing their own health information," Rothstein said.

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"Individuals often must disclose their health information, or authorize the disclosure by a HIPAA covered entity, when applying for employment, life insurance, etc.," Rothstein said. "The individual does not have to release the health information, but then they may not be hired or offered insurance."

On the specific matter of vaccination status, employers are free to ask workers if they have gotten the shot. That means any member of the public, including the media, can ask the question of a government official who works for them.

"That is not a HIPAA violation, and employees may decide whether to provide that information to their employer," the HHS said.

Greene’s director of communications, Nick Dyer, told us, "Congresswoman Greene’s medical records, including her vaccination status, are none of the media’s business."

Our ruling

Greene said questions from reporters about whether she’s been vaccinated violate her HIPAA rights. 

That’s not true. HIPAA gives people the right to control how hospitals and insurance companies share their medical records, but it gives no blanket protection against being asked health questions, or having to answer them. 

Employers may ask employees if they are vaccinated, without running afoul of HIPAA, according to federal guidelines. 

Greene can sidestep the question as a matter of personal choice, but not because of HIPAA. 

We rate this claim False.

 

Our Sources

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Press conference, July 20, 2021

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Information Privacy, accessed July 21, 2021

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Combined regulation text of all rules, May 12, 2017

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, If my employer requires proof of my COVID-19 vaccination status, does that violate my rights under HIPAA?, June 9, 2021

New York Times, Twitter Suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene for Posting Coronavirus Misinformation, July 19, 2021

Newsweek, Is Asking Someone If They Are Vaccinated a HIPAA Violation?, July 21, 2021

MarketWatch, No, asking if someone is vaccinated is not a violation of HIPAA, July 21, 2021

Email exchange, Nick Dyer, communications director, Office of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, July 21, 2021

Email exchange, Mark Rothstein, professor of law, Brandeis School of Law, University of Louisville, July 21, 2021

 

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Marjorie Taylor Greene says HIPAA shields her from vaccination questions. It doesn’t.

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