July 26, 2021

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.

“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.

This fact-check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.

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Jon Greenberg is a senior correspondent with PolitiFact. He was part of the PolitiFact team during the 2012 presidential election and was one of the…
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  • This fact check very neatly ignores the obvious context.

    Contrast the tale told by Greenberg, the fact checker, with that of Greene, the fact checkee.

    Greenberg:

    **Greene described HIPAA as though it conferred a special protection against being asked about her medical history.**

    Greene:

    **“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.”**

    In context, Greene effectively pre-empts the fact check by noting that her HIPAA rights allow her to refrain from answering the question. Greene’s contextual explanation does not jibe with Greenberg’s claim that she spoke as though HIPAA should prevent the question itself.

    The fact check is half true. Good enough for approval from the Poynter-owned International Fact-Checking Network, doubtless.