HHS Makes Big Changes to HIPAA With New Rule

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposed rule to strengthen the privacy and security protections for health information established under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) on Thursday.

“Much has changed in health care since HIPAA was enacted over fifteen years ago,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “The new rule will help protect patient privacy and safeguard patients’ health information in an ever expanding digital age.”

The changes announced today expand many of the requirements to business associates of these entities that receive protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors. Some of the largest breaches reported to HHS have involved business associates. Penalties are increased for noncompliance based on the level of negligence with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation. The changes also strengthen 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.

Patients also have the right to ask for their medical record in an electronic form. When individuals pay by cash they can instruct their provider not to share information about their treatment with their health plan. The final omnibus 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.

“This final omnibus rule marks the most sweeping changes to the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules since they were first implemented,” said HHS Office for Civil Rights Director Leon Rodriguez. “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.”

THe rule is effective March 26, but businesses won’t have to comply until September 23, 2013.

View a copy of the rule here.

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