The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently issued new guidance (Guidance) on the use of remote communication technologies to deliver audio-only telehealth in accordance with HIPAA. Per OCR, the Guidance is intended to ensure continued access for patients to audio-only telehealth in a secure and compliant manner, particularly once OCR’s notification of enforcement discretion (previously discussed here) tied to the COVID-19 pandemic is rescinded (i.e., once the HHS-declared COVID-19 public health emergency is ended).
A federal district court in Montana has confirmed that HIPAA precludes a private right of action for patients to claim an unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of protected health information. Nonetheless, the court denied the defendant covered entity’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that the plaintiff could move forward with state-specific claims of invasion of privacy, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and violation of Montana’s Consumer Protection Act because the federal law does not bar the suit under state law. The court held that, although HIPAA does not allow private lawsuits to be brought for unauthorized disclosure of health information, it does not preempt state law remedies that offer stronger protections than HIPAA.
Continue Reading No Private Right of Action under HIPAA, but State Law Claims May Still be Asserted
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice yesterday stating that it will not impose penalties for HIPAA non-compliance in connection with a covered entity health care provider’s or business associate’s good faith use of online or web-based scheduling applications (WBSAs) for the scheduling of appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations during the public health emergency. The notice is retroactively effective to December 11, 2020. OCR highlights to covered health care providers and business associates that its temporary lifting of HIPAA penalties applies only to scheduling of COVID-19 vaccinations and to no other activities.
Continue Reading OCR Announces it Will Not Impose HIPAA Penalties for Use of COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Apps
On December 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced proposed changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, which is one of several rules that protect the privacy and security of individuals’ medical records and other protected health information (PHI). According to HHS, the proposed changes are intended to support individuals’ engagement in their health care, remove barriers to coordinated care and case management, and reduce regulatory burdens on the health care industry, while continuing to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ PHI.
Continue Reading HHS Proposes Modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rule to Enhance Care Coordination and Management and Remove Barriers to Accessing Information
Continuing with its previous enforcement actions centered on covered entities’ failure to provide patients with access to their health records, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced on October 9, 2020 that it entered into a settlement with Dignity Health, doing business as St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix (St. Joseph’s) for $160,000 for failing to respond to multiple requests of a mother for her son’s records.
Continue Reading Dignity Health Settles with OCR for $160,000 for Failing to Provide Access to Records
Community Health Systems, Inc. Settles for $5 M in Multi-State Settlement
On October 8, 2020, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal
Health care providers and contractors continue to be a popular target for hackers. Recently, CHSPSC LLC (CHSPSC), which provides various services to hospitals and clinics indirectly owned by Community Health Systems, Inc. of Tennessee, agreed to pay $2,300,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in settlement of potential violations of HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules. The OCR investigation and settlement stemmed from a data breach affecting over six million people.…
Continue Reading HIPAA Business Associate Pays $2.3 Million Settlement After Hackers Target PHI of Over 6 Million Individuals
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced yesterday that it has settled five investigations in its HIPAA Rights to Access Initiative (Initiative), which it announced would be an enforcement priority for it starting in 2019. The Initiative is “to support individuals’ right to timely access to their health records at a reasonable cost under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.”
The addition of the five recent settlements brings the total to seven for OCR’s enforcement of the Initiative. The OCR’s press release states that the recent settlement involve five entities: Housing Works, Inc., All Inclusive Medical Services, Inc., Beth Israel Lahey Health Behavioral Sciences and King MD.
Continue Reading OCR Settles Five Investigations Under Right of Access Initiative
On June 12, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued timely HIPAA guidance (Guidance) regarding solicitations of blood and plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients.
In the Guidance, OCR affirms that health care providers can use patient information to identify patients that have recovered from COVID-19 to provide information about how they may donate plasma or blood with COVID-19 antibodies to support treatment of other patients with COVID-19. OCR explains that this use of protected health information would be permissible as part of a provider’s health care operations to enable case management of COVID-19 patient populations. OCR also reminds providers that because the activity is a health care operation and not for treatment purposes, HIPAA’s minimum necessary standard applies to any use or disclosure of protected health information in connection with the solicitation of blood or plasma donations.
Continue Reading HHS Issues Guidance for Providers on Soliciting COVID-19 Blood and Plasma Donations