HIPAA, HITECH Final Rules Expected by Early 2011

Dom Nicastro, October 25, 2010

HIPAA and HITECH final rules could be published by the end of this year or early next year, a top lawyer for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) says.

Adam H. Greene, JD, MPH, senior health information technology and privacy specialist for OCR, gave that prediction during the Fourth Annual HIPAA Summit West: Healthcare Privacy and Security after HITECH and Health Reform on October 4.

Though Greene would not guarantee that estimate, HIPAA privacy and security officers may be wise to listen to him. This past summer, Greene accurately said he expected a proposed rule on changes to the HIPAA privacy, security and enforcement rules to be released around July 8.

That's exactly when the display copy of the rule hit the streets; it was published in the Federal Register July 14.

Covered entities and business associates also await OCR's final rule on breach notification. The rule was sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review but was later withdrawn for further review, OCR announced on its website July 28.

Attendees at the HIPAA Summit earlier this month discussed the breach notification rule and whether or not OCR will lift its "harm threshold" written into the interim final rule. If covered entities determine, after a risk analysis, that a breach would not cause a patient significant financial or reputational harm, breach notification is not mandatory.

Supporters say the harm threshold works because it eliminates endless breach notification reports for "harmless" incidents (i.e., patient information faxed to the wrong department within a hospital).

But opponents, including some members of Congress, want the harm threshold removed because they say it weakens privacy controls and may let entities off the hook for committing breaches.

Dom Nicastro Dom Nicastro is a contributing writer. He edits the Medical Records Briefings newsletter and manages the HIPAA Update Blog.
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