Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

In the final days of 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Health and Human Service (HHS) released a HIPAA Audits Industry Report (“the Report”), that could be quite helpful to covered entities and business associates for tackling HIPAA compliance as we enter the new year.  The Report examines OCR’s findings from

Over the past few years, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights in Action (OCR) has made countless efforts to enhance its Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidance and other related resources on its website. Last week, the OCR launched a new feature

HIPAA: Second Settlement this Year Related to Right to Access Initiative | Blogs | Health Care Law Today | Foley & Lardner LLPWhen providers, health plans, business associates, and even patients and plan participants think of the HIPAA privacy and security rules (‘HIPAA Rules”), they seem to be more focused on the privacy and security aspects of the HIPAA Rules. That is, for example, safeguarding an individual’s protected health information (PHI) to avoid data breaches or avoiding

IT Inventory & Asset Management | Device42 SoftwareLast week, in its Cybersecurity Summer Newsletter, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) published best practices for creating an IT asset inventory list to assist healthcare providers and business associates in understanding where electronic protected health information (ePHI) is located within their organization, and improve HIPAA Security Rule compliance.  OCR investigations often find that organizations

Roger Severino, Director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides advice for HIPAA covered health care providers:

When informed of potential HIPAA violations, providers owe it to their patients to quickly address problem areas to safeguard individuals’ health information

According to OCR allegations,

On April 3, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued an alert to covered entities and business associates. Evidently, one or more individuals are posing as OCR Investigators and contacting HIPAA covered entities and business associates in an attempt to obtain protected health information (PHI).  The individual identifies on the telephone as an OCR investigator,

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has been moving swiftly to provide guidance on addressing key regulatory issues to aid in the fight to contain and defeat COVID-19. Some of the latest developments include exercising its enforcement discretion on certain good faith disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by business associates, adding FAQs for telehealth

With first responders on the front lines of helping to fight the coronavirus, sharing information about potential exposure to COVID-19 is critical to protecting them and preventing further spread. In these situations, the information shared is most often “protected health information” (PHI) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) wants to make it easier for individuals to reach a healthcare provider, including those most at risk (older persons and persons with disabilities). Effective immediately, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency, OCR announced it will not enforce noncompliance with

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