Under the HITECH Act, business associates are subject to the HIPAA privacy and security rules (the "HIPAA Rules") virtually to the same extent as covered entities. In addition to implementing this change for business associates ("BAs"), and providing additional guidance concerning what entities are business associates, the final HIPAA regulations issued last week also treat certain subcontractors of BAs as BAs directly subject to the HIPAA Rules. As a result of some of these changes, covered entities and BAs need to re-examine the relationships with their subcontractors to ensure they obtain the appropriate satisfactory assurances concerning the "protected health information" (PHI) they make available to those subcontractors.

Below are some of the key points from the final regulations concerning BAs and subcontractors:

  • Subcontractors. The final HIPAA regulations provide that subcontractors that create, receive, maintain, or transmit PHI on behalf of a BA are business associates. This is a significant expansion of the application of the HIPAA Rules; it makes subcontractors directly liable under the HIPAA Rules.

As a result of this change, just as covered entities need to ensure that they obtain satisfactory assurances concerning compliance with the HIPAA Rules (usually in the form of a business associate agreement, BAA) from their BAs, BAs must do the same with regard to certain subcontractors. This must continue no matter how far “down the chain” the PHI flows.

  • Business Associate Agreement Not Necessary to Establish Status as Business Associate. The final HIPAA regulations confirm that persons and entities that meet the definition of a BA have that status regardless of whether a "business associate agreement" is in place.
  • Data Storage Companies. Entities that maintain PHI (digital or hard copy) on behalf of a covered entity are BAs, "even if [they] do not actually view the [PHI]."  This provision may create significant compliance issues for cloud service providers, as well as hard copy document storage companies, that have access to the records of their clients but may never look at them. The conduit exception is a narrow one and only applies transmissions of data, not storage. 
  • Certain Groups Not Considered Business Associates.
    • Researchers generally are not considered BAs when performing research functions.
    • Banking institutions generally are not considered BAs with respect to certain payment processing activities (e.g., cashing a check or conducting a funds transfer)
    • Malpractice insurers generally are not considered BAs when providing services related to the insurance, but may be BAs when providing risk management and similar services to covered entities.

Transition rule for compliance. A transition rule under the final HIPAA regulations permits covered entities and BAs to continue to operate under certain existing contracts for up to one year beyond the compliance date (September 23, 2013) of the final regulations. A qualifying business associate agreement will be deemed compliant until the earlier of (i) the date such agreement is renewed or modified on or after September 23, 2013, or (ii) September 22, 2014. This rule only applies to the language in the agreements, the parties must operate as required under the HIPAA Rules in accordance with the applicable compliance dates. 

Covered entities and business associates may want to act more quickly to identify and contract with those individuals and entities from whom they must obtain satisfactory assurances under HIPAA.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.