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Watertown Daily Times: Bill ensures free access to personal health records

By Jen Jackson, 9/19

ALBANY — A new law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week aims to streamline the application process for Social Security, veteran’s benefits, disability benefits and more.

The bill ensures New Yorkers free access to their own medical records for those applying for government programs like Medicaid benefits and Social Security.

It was previously prohibited by the state to charge people who are unable to pay for their medical records.

However, determining who qualifies as unable to pay the various fees was considered “complicated” and an imperfect process by architects of the bill. “Current law does provide free access,” the bill reads. “However, the fee waiver is routinely ignored and is poorly enforced.”

“We have a right to our own medical records,” Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried said in a public statement. “Paying for hundreds of pages is a barrier to getting public benefits for low income New Yorkers.”

Advocates from four legal justice services groups worked with Health Committee members to draft the document.

“Low income disabled New Yorkers need to be able to obtain the health records critical to proving their eligibility for benefits,” said Louise Tarantino, senior attorney for the Empire Justice Center, in the statement.

Without access to personal health records, even individuals eligible for disability or veteran’s benefits, or other programs, can be denied.

Appeals to Social Security and veteran’s benefits application denials often come with wait times of over a year.

“The signing of this bill into law will not only facilitate the statewide work of (disability advocates) on behalf of their disabled clients,

it will enable countless disabled New Yorkers and veterans to better advocate for themselves,” Ms. Tarantino continued.

The law went into effect immediately after being signed on Sept. 14., and includes all documents, whether electronic or physical copies. It also covers all processes to provide or deliver health records.