HHS: Federal Shutdown Would Halt OCR Rulemaking, Enforcement

Dom Nicastro, for HealthLeaders Media, April 8, 2011

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) would suspend all rulemaking and enforcement activities in light of a government shutdown, a Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) official confirmed.

If Congress cannot agree on spending for the rest of the fiscal year by midnight Friday , there would be a federal shutdown on spending of nonessential government services.

In an e-mail to the OCR, the HIPAA privacy and security rule enforcer under HHS, HealthLeaders Media asked about a shutdown's impact on OCR operations.

In response, HHS wrote, "Agency operational plans are still being finalized, but our current understanding is that OCR's rulemaking and enforcement activities--including investigations--would be suspended in the event of a federal shutdown."

OCR is in the process of crafting rules per the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Those rules affect the HIPAA privacy and security rules. OCR also is formulating per HITECH a HIPAA audit plan for covered entities and business associates.

Final rules are expected on:

  • Breach notification
  • Enforcement
  • HIPAA HITECH (modifications to privacy and security rules)

OCR officials had said they expect to release the rules simultaneously. They had predicted they would be delivered in March.

OCR is also preparing a proposed rule on accounting of disclosures of electronic health records systems (EHRS). HITECH calls for OCR to expand the HIPAA accounting disclosures provision to add treatment, payment, and healthcare operations disclosures when they're through an EHR.

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