Office of Civil Rights

According to a December 20, 2019 Report by HIPAA Journal, nearly 39 million health care data breaches had been reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”), Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) by the end of November 2019. This is a staggering number, especially considering that this is more than double what was reported in all of 2018. This appears to be part of an exponentially growing number of breach reports since, as we reported last year, 2018’s breach reports were already three times greater than what was reported in 2017.

This article explores some of the trends that can be attributed to the growing number of breaches and how the OCR has responded to the difficulties experienced by healthcare entities (“Covered Entities”) covered by the security and confidentiality requirements applicable to protected health information (“PHI”) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and 45 CFR Parts 160 and 164, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (“HITECH”) (collectively referred to hereinafter as “HIPAA”).
Continue Reading 2019 Year in Review: Notable Changes in Law, Policy, and Enforcement of HIPAA

Access to healthcare information (or lack thereof) has always been touted as one of the key factors/necessities to realizing the promise of technology in the delivery of healthcare. Despite various legislative, judicial, patient and industry initiatives, access continues to be a challenge due to a variety of competitive practices and lack of capabilities. Consider the following events and whether they signal real progress:

  1. In a September 9, 2019 Press Release issued by the United States Department of Health & Human Services – Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”), the OCR announced that it had taken action against Bayfront Health St. Petersburg (“Bayfront”), an academic medical center in St. Petersburg, Florida, to enforce the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) protections that guarantee every patient the right to receive copies of his/her medical records promptly and without being overcharged. The enforcement action against Bayfront (which includes the assessment of an $85,000 fine against Bayfront and the imposition of a “Resolution Agreement” between OCR and Bayfront) is notable as the OCR’s first enforcement action under the OCR’s “Right of Access Initiative” – a program designed to focus OCR resources on the enforcement of HIPAA’s right of access guarantees.
  2. On February 11, 2019, two offices of the US Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) — the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) – each released a proposed rule (ONC Proposed Rule; CMS Proposed Rule) (collectively, the “Proposed Rules”) aimed at enhancing the interoperability of electronic health record (“EHR”) systems and increasing patient access to electronic health information (“EHI”) as required by the 21st Century Cures Act.
  3. On September 23, 2019, seven major healthcare leadership groups, including the American Health Information Management Association (“AHIMA”) and the American Medical Association (AMA), sent a letter to Congress (the “AHIMA Letter”) critiquing the ONC Proposed Rule.

What is the link between the Bayfront case, the Proposed Rules, and the AHIMA letter? The link is commonly referred to as “Information Blocking.”
Continue Reading INFORMATION BLOCKING AND THE RIGHT TO ACCESS INITIATIVE: Why Patients Struggle to Obtain their Medical Records and what the Office of Civil Rights Intends to Do About It

The Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced it will devote more resources to investigate smaller HIPAA breaches. Before this announcement, OCR typically opened investigations for HIPAA breaches affecting more than 500 individuals.
Continue Reading OCR to Focus More Investigative Resources on Smaller HIPAA Breaches with Less Than 500 Individuals Affected