WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump urged Walter Reed National Military Medical Center staff to sign nondisclosure agreements last year before they could deal with his treatment, according to four people familiar with the process.
During a surprise trip to Walter Reed on November 16, 2019, Trump commissioned signed NDAs by both doctors and non-medical personnel, most of whom are members of active military service. At least two doctors at Walter Reed who refused to sign NDAs were later banned from participating in the presidential care, two respondents said.
The reason for his trip last year remains a mystery.
The four people familiar with the process did not know if he had the same demands on Walter Reed employees during the President̵
Anyone providing medical services to the President – or any other American – is automatically prohibited by federal law from disclosing the patient’s personal health information without consent. The legal protections in place for all patients under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) begs the question of why Trump would insist that Walter Reed employees sign NDAs.
“Any doctor who looks after the president is bound by the patient’s doctor confidentiality guaranteed by HIPAA, and I will not comment on any internal procedures,” White House assistant secretary Judd Deere said in one Explanation.
In addition, all employees in the White House medical department that treats the President and Vice President on a daily basis must have a special security clearance for “Yankee White.” To obtain approval, they must be US citizens and have extensive background checks.
Transparency about Trump’s health has been an increased issue since the White House announced last week that he tested positive for the coronavirus, and the president appears to be severely curtailing the information his doctors are allowed to make available to the public. Dr. Sean Conley, the president’s doctor, has refused to answer important questions such as: B. When Trump last tested negative for the virus and whether the disease led him to develop pneumonia.
In the past few days, Conley, a naval officer, has refused to disclose information about Trump’s health citing HIPAA on several occasions.
“We took standard routine recordings. I’m just not free to argue about it,” Conley told reporters Monday when asked if the president had pneumonia or an infection in his lungs.
Conley’s written updates on Trump’s health included the statement, “I am posting the following information with the permission of President Donald J. Trump.”
Walter Reed spokesman Norris Agnew referred NBC News to the White House for comment.
Trump has routinely required employees of his company, the Trump Organization, to sign nondisclosure agreements. He continued the practice when he ran for president and even with some White House officials after he took office.
Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, said some celebrities and wealthy businesspeople are urging their doctors to sign NDAs even though it’s not necessary to protect their privacy.
“Ethically and legally you can apply for an NDA, but you don’t need one,” said Caplan. “Doctors cannot share information with anyone other than those who care for the patient or those who bill the patient. And ultimately, it is up to the patient whether or not the doctor can provide information.
“It’s more redundant than unethical. The presumption is privacy first,” and doctors who violate privacy law for no reason face dire consequences, he said.
Since his coronavirus diagnosis was released Oct. 1, Trump has tried to project an image of strength with carefully choreographed public appearances, and he could view any contrary information about his health as undermining that narrative.
Trump stayed with Walter Reed for three nights after the White House announced that he tested positive. He was released on Monday and returned to the White House.
Following Trump’s unscheduled trip to Walter Reed last year, the White House said he was there to complete parts of his annual physical exam, which is usually done during a post-New Year visit.
“In anticipation of a very busy 2020, the President is using a weekend off here in Washington, DC to begin parts of his routine annual medical check-up with Walter Reed,” Stephanie Grisham, then White House press secretary, told a statement.
Trump’s two previous physical exams as president had been announced in advance, and Walter Reed’s medical staff were widely informed that they would expect a high-level visit. None of these steps were taken prior to Trump’s visit last year.