Federal Rule Expands Privacy Protections and Penalties for Patient Health Information, New Report Says

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Researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services have released a new report analyzing key changes to a federal rule implementing modifications to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) required by the Health Information Technology for Clinical and Economic Health Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. HIPAA requires certain organizations and their contractors to protect the privacy and security of patient health information. The final rule, which was released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, strengthens the privacy and security requirements related to the use and disclosure of patient health information, including new enforcement protocols and increased penalties.

“This rule recognizes the broadening scope of health information exchange in a digital age by expanding the types of organizations responsible for keeping patient health information private and secure," said lead author of the report Jane Hyatt Thorpe, JD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy at the SPHHS. “In addition, it expands the federal government’s authority to investigate and penalize organizations that violate the privacy and security requirements—be they providers, health plans, clearinghouses, or other organizations working on their behalf with protected health information."

Other key changes put in place by this final rule include: increased penalties for violations and a modified structure for assessing culpability; protection for genetic information, such as tests for inherited diseases required by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008; and expanded rights for patients, including access to their electronic information and a right to restrict the release of health information to payers for services paid for out of pocket by the patient.

In addition to the new report, the researchers also prepared a provision-specific analysis and a comparative table of key changes in the law and regulations. The report and additional resources can be accessed online at Health Information & the Law, a project of the Hirsh Health Law and Policy Program at the SPHHS. The project, which was developed with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, serves as a practical online resource for federal and state laws on health information.

To get a copy of the report or find out more about Health Information & the Law, visit www.healthinfolaw.org.

Source: George Washington University

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