When use or disclosure of an individual’s health information or medical records is at issue, the assumption seems to be, much more often than not, that the HIPAA privacy and security rules apply. This has certainly been the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, it is true that in most healthcare settings, HIPAA is
While its rollout has been slow, the vaccine is being administered across the U.S. and in other countries. As of January 15, 2021, nearly 36 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, just over 11 million in the U.S. For a variety of reasons, organizations want to know whether their workforce members…
Since March of this year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released guidance on a near-monthly basis addressing various FAQs concerning COVID-19 issues. The guidance has focused on disability-related inquiries, confidentiality, hiring, and reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as issues under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act…
In late-March and April 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance addressing various questions with answers concerning COVID-19 and related workplace disability-related issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recently, on June 17th, the EEOC updated its guidance to include a new question regarding antibody testing.
Most of the questions…
Stopping the spread of coronavirus is critical to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. As testing is ramping up around the country, some states and localities have imposed health screening requirements in an effort to identify persons at risk of being infected and stopping them from infecting others. Whether mandatory or recommended, screening employees and visitors could…
As the coronavirus spreads across the globe and in the United States, providers, businesses, employers, and others are struggling to understand what medical information they can collect and what information they can share. These are difficult questions the answers to which involve considering factors such as long-standing compliance requirements (e.g., HIPAA, ADA, GINA, state law), the unprecedented times we are in, business risk, and common sense. Government is trying to act to relieve some of these challenges, but questions still remain.
HIPAA Privacy Rule Waiver of Penalties and Sanctions
Effective March 15, 2020, for example, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex M. Azar (Secretary) waived certain penalties and sanctions under the HIPAA Privacy Rule against hospitals in its March 2020 COVID-19 and HIPAA Bulletin. These waivers were issued in response to President Donald J. Trump’s declaration of a nationwide emergency concerning COVID-19, and the Secretary’s earlier declaration of a public health emergency on January 31, 2020. The Secretary’s guidance makes clear that the Privacy Rule is not suspended during this crisis and provides guidance about the ability of entities covered by the HIPAA regulations to share information, including with friends and family, public health officials, and emergency personnel. But, in the following areas, the Secretary has waived sanctions and penalties against covered hospitals that do not comply with the following provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule:
- the requirements to obtain a patient’s agreement to speak with family members or friends involved in the patient’s care. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).
- the requirement to honor a request to opt out of the facility directory. See 45 CFR 164.510(a).
- the requirement to distribute a notice of privacy practices. See 45 CFR 164.520.
- the patient’s right to request privacy restrictions. See 45 CFR 164.522(a).
- the patient’s right to request confidential communications. See 45 CFR 164.522(b).
The waiver became effective on March 15, 2020, and there is more information and access to resources in the Bulletin about where it applies and for how long.
Reminder About What Entities Are Covered Entities and Business Associates
As part of its guidance on HIPAA privacy and disclosures in emergency situations, the Bulletin reminds readers what entities are covered by these rules – covered entities and business associates. There can be some tricky questions here, but these are the basic rules from the Bulletin:
The HIPAA Privacy Rule applies to disclosures made by employees, volunteers, and other members of a covered entity’s or business associate’s workforce. Covered entities are health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers that conduct one or more covered health care transactions electronically, such as transmitting health care claims to a health plan. Business associates generally are persons or entities (other than members of the workforce of a covered entity) that perform functions or activities on behalf of, or provide certain services to, a covered entity that involve creating, receiving, maintaining, or transmitting protected health information. Business associates also include subcontractors that create, receive, maintain, or transmit protected health information on behalf of another business associate. The Privacy Rule does not apply to disclosures made by entities or other persons who are not covered entities or business associates (although such persons or entities are free to follow the standards on a voluntary basis if desired). There may be other state or federal rules that apply.
Employers are Not Covered Entities or Business Associates – But Still Have Privacy and Confidentiality Obligations
When conducting its business, an organization can be a HIPAA covered entity and/or a business associate. However, when that business is functioning as an employer, it is neither a HIPAA covered entity nor a business associate, although it may sponsor a covered health plan subject to the HIPAA privacy and security rules. As organizations face the coronavirus threat to their workforce and their business, many questions arise about the collection, processing, and disclosure of medical information from employees, their family members, and visitors to their facilities. These can be thorny questions and organizations should seek qualified counsel, but here are some general rules:
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Continue Reading HIPAA Privacy Rule Waiver, Other Medical Information Questions During the COVID-19 Pandemic
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On March 22, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri against Grisham Farm Products, Inc. alleging that its employment application violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”). Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Grisham Farm…
As reported on our Benefits Law Advisor, the EEOC has issued proposed wellness program regulations. Much of the attention to those proposed rules understandably will be how they would affect the incentives employers have implemented to spur their employees to engage in healthier behaviors. The proposed rules also address, however, the confidentiality provisions under…
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Continue Reading Maryland and Illinois Seek to Protect Employee Social Media Activity