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HHS Proposes HIPAA Modifications

Analysis  |  By John Commins  
   December 11, 2020

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would amend provisions of the Privacy Rule that could stymie coordinated care and case management or impose other regulatory burdens.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday unveiled proposed changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule that federal officials say will improve patient access to their medical records, encourage coordinated care and cut red tape.

"Our proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule will break down barriers that have stood in the way of commonsense care coordination and value-based arrangements for far too long," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a media release.

 "As part of our broader efforts to reform regulations that impede care coordination, these proposed reforms will reduce burdens on providers and empower patients and their families to secure better health," he said.

Specifically, the proposals in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, drafted by HHS's Office of Civil Rights after hearing public feedback, would amend provisions of the Privacy Rule that could stymie coordinated care and case management, or impose other regulatory burdens.

"These regulatory barriers may impede the transformation of the healthcare system from a system that pays for procedures and services to a system of value-based health care that pays for quality care," the NPRM said.

Some of the major provisions of the NPRM would increase permissible disclosures of personal health information, strengthen patients' rights to access their own health information, expand the definition of electronic health records, improve information sharing for coordinated care, facilitate family and caregiver involvement in emergency care, reduce administrative burdens on HIPAA covered providers and payers, and provide for disclosures in emergency circumstances, such as the opioid or COVID-19 public health emergencies.

"Today's announcement is a continuation of our ongoing work under my Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care to eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers blocking patients from getting better care," HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said.

"These proposed changes reduce burden on providers and support new ways for them to innovate and coordinate care on behalf of patients, while ensuring that we uphold HIPAA's promise of privacy and security," he said.

Randi Seigel a partner at Manatt Health, called the proposed rule "the biggest change to HIPAA in the last seven years."

"These proposed rules provide greater and quicker access by individuals to their healt care data and enable more data sharing between providers and plans and social service providers for care coordination," Seigel said. "The proposed rules also align HIPAA with the Information Blocking Rules. If the rules are enacted, covered entities will need to revise their policies and practices to ensure compliance." 

HHS OCR is asking for comments from stakeholders, including patients, their families, HIPAA covered entities, consumer advocates, healthcare professional associations, health information management professionals, health information technology vendors, and government entities.

Public comments on the NPRM will be due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. 

“Our proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule will break down barriers that have stood in the way of commonsense care coordination and value-based arrangements for far too long.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Some of the major provisions of the NPRM would increase permissible disclosures of personal health information, strengthen patients' rights to access their own health information.

The NPRM would also expand the definition of electronic health records, improve information sharing for coordinated care, facilitate family and caregiver involvement in emergency care.

HHS says the new rules would reduce administrative burdens on HIPAA covered providers and payers, and provide for disclosures in emergency circumstances, such as the opioid or COVID-19 public health emergencies.


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