Law blitzes NFL

6-13-02, 5:40 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Bengals and the NFL are keeping a wary eye on a law that could allow players not to disclose their injuries to their employers and the media.

League officials such as Bengals President Mike Brown are concerned about the impact of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), in which by next April all health-care providers must adhere to privacy regulations. According to a June 11 "New York Times," story, sports officials may be prevented from disclosing a player's medical information without consent.

HIPAA not only raises the question about what can be disclosed to the media, but what can be disclosed to the team and its coaches.

And Brown says the law makes the NFL's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis useless because teams go there mainly to gather medical information on the draft-eligible players.

"It's possible that we could put a player on the field who runs the risk of further injury or even death," Brown said. "I don't think that's reasonable. We need to know if a

player is ready to play. Some players would not admit to their injury either out of some kind of machismo or ignorance, or who knows what else."

And Brown wonders how a team could prepare its salary cap and how coaches can get their players ready for a game without knowing the full extent of injuries.

"A player could come in and not tell us he is physically injured," Brown said, "and he could go out on the field and we would be obligated to pay him his total compensation. That's not very sensible. But all that would pale in comparison to the player's health."

The players could be asked to sign a waiver, but according to "The Times," the status of waivers is in question once the law goes into effect.

Another of Brown's concerns is public disclosure. He thinks the league needs it for reasons of legitimacy.

"We've always taken the position that the public does have the right to know about injuries," Brown said. "It was something that was done because if this information weren't out there for everyone, it would be an incentive for certain gambling interests to obtain the information. That could work bad results on teams and players and the industry. I think it would create an uneven playing field for those who choose to gamble.

"Whether that should be our lookout or not is another issue," Brown said. "But it creates problems for us if suddenly that information could be manipulated. We're trying to avoid that."

Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president for public relations, said the league is "following the the regulatory process closely and will be prepared to advise our clubs after the final compliance rules are determined."

Brown plans to discuss the law at the next few NFL owners meetings, where he'll no doubt have the sympathetic ears that weren't open in Congress when the law was passed in 1996 in an effort "to increase protection of health-care information," "The Times," said.

"They tried to make one size fit all," said Brown of HIPAA. "To some it would appear to be a good thing, but as it applies to the NFL, it creates problems that I doubt were considered when the legislation was acted upon."

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