HHS Issues Final Rule To Strengthen HIPAA Provisions

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a final rule that will strengthen the privacy and security protections for health information established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The final rule enhances a patient’s privacy protections, provides individuals new rights to their health information, and strengthens the government’s ability to enforce the law. The final rule is effective on March 26, 2013, and is scheduled to be published in the January 25 Federal Register.

The HIPAA privacy and security rules generally focus on health care providers, health plans, and other entities that process health insurance claims. The final rule expands many of the requirements to business associates of these entities that receive protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors. In addition, penalties are increased for noncompliance based on the level of negligence with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation. The final rule also strengthens the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Breach Notification requirements by clarifying when breaches of unsecured health information must be reported to HHS.

Individual rights. The final rule now allows patients to ask for a copy of their electronic medical record in an electronic form. Also, when individuals pay by cash they can instruct their provider not to share information about their treatment with their health plan. The final rule sets new limits on how information is used and disclosed for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibits the sale of an individuals’ health information without their permission.

The final rule also reduces burden by streamlining individuals’ ability to authorize the use of their health information for research purposes. It also eased the requirements for parents and others to give permission to share proof of a child’s immunization with a school and gives covered entities and business associates up to one year after the 180-day compliance date to modify contracts to comply with the rule.

Genetic information. The final rule also modifies the HIPAA privacy rule to prohibit most health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes. This provision was published in a proposed rule in October 2009.

“This final omnibus rule marks the most sweeping changes to the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules since they were first implemented,” said Leon Rodriguez, HHS Office for Civil Rights director. “These changes not only greatly enhance a patient’s privacy rights and protections, but also strengthen the ability of my office to vigorously enforce the HIPAA privacy and security protections, regardless of whether the information is being held by a health plan, a health care provider, or one of their business associates.”

For more information, contact Andra Wicks at (202) 205-2292.

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