On December 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule. HHS stated that the proposed modifications, which are being issued as part of HHS’s “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care,” are aimed at removing barriers to coordinated care, strengthening individuals’ access to their own medical information, and reducing unnecessary administrative burdens. Proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule in the NPRM include: Continue reading “HHS Issues Proposed Changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule”
The CARES Act (the “Act”), enacted on March 27, 2020, makes notable changes to federal law governing the disclosure of substance use disorder (“SUD”) records. The Act amends 42 U.S.C. 290dd-2, the governing statute of the regulations at 42 C.F.R. Part 2 (“Part 2”) to better align certain of its confidentiality requirements with HIPAA. The amendments do not change the basic premise that prior written consent of the patient is required for disclosure of SUD treatment records. However, once prior written consent of the patient is obtained, the amendments allow a covered entity, business associate, or Part 2 program to use or disclose SUD records for purposes of treatment, payment, and health care operations as permitted by HIPAA. Any information so disclosed may then be redisclosed in accordance with the HIPAA regulations. The amendments also allow a patient’s prior written consent to be given once for all such future uses or disclosures for purposes of treatment, payment, and health care operations, until the patient revokes his or her consent in writing. Continue reading “The CARES Act Amends Federal Law Governing the Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records”
There are several measures OCR/HHS has taken to lessen the regulatory burden of HIPAA for health care providers amidst COVID-19. Here is the latest breakdown of important pronouncements and guidance set forth by OCR/HHS to help providers deal with COVID-19 and HIPAA compliance:
On January 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) sent a Memorandum (“Memo”) to State survey agency directors encouraging long-term care providers to “consider cybersecurity when developing or reviewing their emergency preparedness plans.” The Memo was a follow-up to the CMS long-term care emergency preparedness rule published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2016: “Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.” Under that final rule, long-term care facilities were held to additional standards, including requirements to have emergency and standby power systems in place. Nursing homes were also required to create plans regarding missing residents that could be activated regardless of whether the facility has activated its full-scale emergency plan. The rule was spurred on by recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other emergency disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to CMS.
Whether State surveyors will actually enforce lack of cybersecurity plans for emergency preparedness as violations remains to be seen from this Memo. But certainly, a State survey agency could impose deficiencies for failure to have a proper cybersecurity plan and/or a proper cybersecurity back‑up plan as part of a facility’s emergency preparedness going forward. It is not clear why CMS decided to send this encouragement Memo three months after the Final Rule on emergency preparedness, but it likely has something to do with the fact that 2016 was a banner year for HIPAA privacy infractions and HIPAA enforcement by the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), the entity responsible for HIPAA compliance. In 2016, payouts for HIPAA violations skyrocketed to record heights of $23.51 million from OCR enforcers against health care providers. That number was triple the previous record of almost $7.94 million in payouts in 2014, followed by $6.19 million in payouts in 2015.
On August 5, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a Survey and Certification Memorandum (Notice) urging State health departments to enforce violations by nursing homes in posting patient images on social media. This development was interesting given that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the enforcer of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules, presumably should already be cracking down on any such violations of resident rights as a violation of HIPAA. According to Modern Healthcare, increased instances of nursing home staff inappropriately posting resident pictures on social media may have sparked this pronouncement by CMS.
Specifically, CMS will more strictly enforce, through State agencies, corrective actions to ensure that employee postings of residents in a degrading manner do not occur in the nursing home setting. Interestingly, the Notice does not discuss nursing homes reporting such employee conduct to OCR, but does indicate that employees should report such postings on social media of residents as abuse “to at least one law enforcement agency.” Continue reading “Government Cracks Down On Nursing Home Use of Social Media”
Covered Entities Cautioned Regarding Use of Business Associates
On July 8, 2013, health insurer WellPoint, Inc. entered into a Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (HHS), agreeing to pay HHS $1.7 million to resolve an HHS complaint regarding violations of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules during the period of October 23, 2009, through March 7, 2010. WellPoint reported a breach of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on June 18, 2010, leading to an HHS investigation that commenced on September 9, 2010.
The WellPoint matter serves as a reminder to HIPAA-covered entities and subcontractors that are business associates to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and to prudently oversee the services provided by these business associates.
Click here to read the full Alert.
On June 3, 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Internal Revenue Service, Employee Benefits Security Administration and Department of the Treasury published in the Federal Register final guidance regarding nondiscriminatory wellness programs under employer-sponsored group health plans. This final guidance was issued in the form of much-anticipated joint final regulations on such wellness programs (the “Final Regulations”). It is important to note that the Final Regulations will apply to wellness programs offered under all group health plans [regardless of whether the plan is “grandfathered” under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the “Affordable Care Act”)]. Moreover, these Final Regulations will be effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2014.
The 2013 HIPAA Amendments directly apply to healthcare providers, plans and clearinghouses as “covered entities,” as well as their subcontractors and vendors as “business associates” (including their downstream subcontractors and agents). However, it is not just covered entities and business associates that need to understand the 2013 Amendments. Advertisers, data aggregators, market researchers and others that want access to PHI, even data that appear to be de-identified, will be impacted.
HIPAA-covered entities and many of their vendors—among them are HIO and EHR consultants, data analytic firms, data transmission facilitators, software vendors and device vendors—rely on health information technology (HIT) to accomplish their purposes. Large data companies, small entrepreneurs and investors are participating in the growth of HIT.
Employers that sponsor group health plans for their employees should pay careful attention to the newly announced final omnibus rule amending HIPAA in accordance with the HITECH Act of 2009. This final rule under the HITECH Act, issued on January 17, 2013, impacts group health plans in two significant ways. Group health plan sponsors should act now to make changes to existing plan documents, including HIPAA procedures and business associate agreements, in response to the Final Rule.
Click here for an overview of how HIPAA generally applies in the context of employer-sponsored group health plans and these significant changes impacting group health plans.