“You see,” she continued, adopting the tone of a teacher gently educating a fifth-grader, “with HIPAA rights, we don’t have to reveal our medical records, and that also involves our vaccine records.”
Well, no. No, it’s not.
The Washington Post’s Allyson Chiu walked through this in May, explaining that those who claimed that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act meant that they couldn’t be asked about their vaccination status were misunderstanding the law. Chiu was writing in response to … Greene, who had declared on social media that “ALL medical records are private due to HIPPA [sic] rights,” which isn’t really what the law says.
The law, Chiu explained, includes “provisions to protect a person’s identifying health information from being shared without their knowledge or consent” — but it applies only to “specific health-related entities, such as insurance providers, health-care clearinghouses, health-care providers and their business associates.” In other words, if I ask her physician whether Greene was vaccinated, the physician is not allowed to tell me. But to suggest that I’m violating some right by asking Greene herself is like saying that there’s some law that prevents me from asking someone whether they color their hair. There is not.
But, again, it’s all in the delivery. Greene is wrong, and this argument been publicly debunked for months, but she still offers the rejoinder with unmitigated self-assurance as though it dismantles the question once and for all.
A few days ago, Greene’s Twitter account was temporarily locked after she tweeted two claims about coronavirus vaccines that weren’t true. In one, she said that vaccines and masks shouldn’t be mandated but, instead, that the government should “help people protect their health by defeating obesity, which will protect them from covid complications & death, and many other health problems.” In the other, she said that “vaccines should not be forced on our military for a virus that is not dangerous for non-obese people and those under 65,” then claimed that there were thousands of “vax related deaths.”
Twitter allowed the tweets to stay up after labeling them as misinformation, which they were. Vaccines and masks are obviously more useful at combating the coronavirus than losing weight for the simple reason that they prevent infection in the first place. Although obesity has been a factor in exacerbating the negative effects of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, focusing on weight loss to combat the coronavirus is a bit like focusing on helmets to survive a war.
The other tweet, about the virus not being dangerous for those younger than 65, is far worse. In May, about 1 in 7 deaths from covid-19 occurred among those younger than 65. Her claim that thousands of deaths have been linked to the vaccine is utter nonsense, relying on a conflation of “people died after being vaccinated” with “people died because they were vaccinated.” It’s like blaming deaths on breathing; after all, everyone took at least one breath right before they died, so clearly inhalation is deadly, right? Never mind how many breaths we take without perishing.
If you’re curious about that “obesity” throughline, well, when you’re a CrossFit enthusiast, every problem looks like an exercise opportunity, as the old expression goes. Greene’s political identity is intertwined with her having run a gym, and she has used her workouts repeatedly as political messages. (CrossFit has distanced itself from Greene.)
Greene’s defense for her tweets, such as it was, was revealing. Speaking to the right-wing Washington Examiner, she attacked Twitter as “communist” — a baffling charge to make against a private company, but okay — and said she was simply offering Washington some good old-fashioned American real-talk.
“I am only speaking and saying exactly what most regular Americans speak and say every single day, Americans that people here in the swamp never talk to and never even think about,” Greene said. “Most Americans all over the country just say the same things that I say. But I’m saying it in a place where they do not want to hear the regular American people’s voices.”
Although one could contest the idea that “most regular Americans” are touting weight loss as preferable to vaccination as an anti-coronavirus strategy, it is true that Greene is not speaking with the sort of reality-bound rhetoric that was generally expected of elected officials before, oh, about noon on Jan. 20, 2017. Her political emergence followed her vocal embrace of far-right claims and misinformation and, in fact, that’s what she brought to Washington. Although traditionalists might view the phrase “elected leader” as descriptive in both its “elected” and “leader” distillations, Greene sees her role as amplifying the voices of the public, however representative those voices she’s hearing happen to be. She’s following the gestalt reflected on social media, not leading the public’s understanding of the pandemic.
So we get a member of Congress blithely waving away a question about whether she has taken a simple step to protect public health — a step increasingly endorsed by her party — while layering on top an obvious misunderstanding of a basic law. This HIPAA thing is popular as a rejoinder on social media, but as it turns out, voices on social media are often wrong. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for a member of Congress to understand that distinction.