Disclaimer: This blog article was written by an AdvancedMD partner. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AdvancedMD.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rules. The purpose of these changes is to support individuals’ engagement in their care, remove barriers to coordinated care, and reduce regulatory burdens on the health care industry.
“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,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “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.
Among the features of the proposed changes are:
- greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises
- enhance flexibilities for disclosures in emergency or threatening circumstances, such as the opioid and COVID-19 public health emergencies
In addition to enhancing patient access to health information the proposed rule will reduce the burden on physicians when sharing information with other care providers. These changes are intended to enhance co-ordination of care and allow care givers to develop new ways to innovate.
Some of the more interesting features of the proposed rule that will have a direct impact on providers are:
- Shortening covered entities’ required response time to no later than 15 calendar days (from the current 30 days) with the opportunity for an extension of no more than 15 calendar days (from the current 30-day extension).
- Reducing the identity verification burden on individuals exercising their access rights.
- Requiring covered health care providers and health plans to respond to certain records requests received from other covered health care providers and health plans when directed by individuals pursuant to the right of access.
- Specifying when electronic PHI (ePHI) must be provided to the individual at no charge.
- Clarifying the scope of covered entities’ abilities to disclose PHI to social services agencies, community-based organizations, home, and community-based service (HCBS) providers, and other similar third parties that provide health-related services, to facilitate coordination of care and case management for individuals.
- Replacing the privacy standard that permits covered entities to make certain uses and disclosures of PHI based on their “professional judgment” with a standard permitting such uses or disclosures based on a covered entity’s good faith belief that the use or disclosure is in the best interests of the individual. The proposed standard is more permissive in that it would presume a covered entity’s good faith, but this presumption could be overcome with evidence of bad faith.
- Expanding the ability of covered entities to disclose PHI to avert a threat to health or safety when a harm is “serious and reasonably foreseeable,” instead of the current stricter standard which requires a “serious and imminent” threat to health or safety.
- Eliminating the requirement to obtain an individual’s written acknowledgment of receipt of a direct treatment provider’s Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP).
- Requiring covered entities to post estimated fee schedules on their websites for access and for disclosures with an individual’s valid authorization6 and, upon request, provide individualized estimates of fees for an individual’s request for copies of PHI, and itemized bills for completed requests.
This is only a proposed change but there are many aspects that are expected to make it into the final rule. As with any proposed change, you should not take any action at this time, but it is important that you be aware of these changes and be ready when the final rule is published.
If you were not aware of the rules that are changing prior to reading this article we encourage you to attend an informative webinar on the proposed changes that will be held on Monday January 4, 2021 at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific.