Proposed updates to HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules What is new?

It was good to see the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) publish the long awaited proposed updates to HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules Thursday last week. Note that OCR is the division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responsible for enforcing both the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules.

I want to emphasize that these are proposed updates, also called Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in Federal Government parlance. There is a 60 days period for the public to submit comments on the NPRM after it was published yesterday in the Federal Register. The comments are due by 09/13/2010.

The NPRM includes updates to the following HIPAA rules or areas:

  • Privacy Rule
  • Security Rule
  • Rules pertaining to Compliance and Investigations
  • Imposition of Civil Money Penalties, and
  • Procedures for Hearings (Enforcement Rule)

As noted in the NPRM, these updates are being made to “implement recent statutory amendments under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) and to strengthen the privacy and security protection of health information, and to improve the workability and effectiveness of these HIPAA Rules”.

For those who don’t have much history on HIPAA, the current Privacy Rule was issued on December 28, 2000, and amended on August 14, 2002 while the Security Rule was issued on February 20, 2003. So, the proposed updates are long overdue in any case given that Information Security and Privacy risk landscapes have changed substantially since these rules were issued.

I’ll focus on updates to just the Security and Privacy Rules in this post. I’ll have two more posts over the next week or so, one with an in-depth coverage on what to expect from proposed updates to the Security Rule and the other one with a similar coverage of the Privacy Rule.

So, here are notable proposed updates:

  • Replace “individually identifiable health information” with “protected health information” to better reflect the scope of the Privacy and Security Rules.
  • Definition of “Business Associate”(BA) being expanded to include the following new constituents:
    • Patient Safety Organizations (PSO)
    • Health Information Organizations (HIO)
    • E-Prescribing Gateways
    • Other Persons that facilitate PHI data transmissions for Covered Entities or other BAs and require routine access to such PHI
    • Vendors of Personal Health Records (like Google Health and Microsoft Healthvault)
    • Subcontractors of a Covered Entity (CE) – i.e., those persons that perform functions for or provide services to a BA, other than in the capacity as a member of the business associate’s workforce.
  • As provided in section 13401 of the HITECH Act, the Security Rule’s administrative, physical, and technical safeguards requirements in §§ 164.308, 164.310, and 164.312, as well as its policies and procedures and documentation requirements in § 164.316, shall apply to BAs in the same manner as these requirements apply to CEs.
  • BAs shall be civilly and criminally liable for penalties for violations of the provisions in #3 above.
  • Requirements of BA contracts (or other arrangements) between CEs and BAs will now apply to contracts (or other arrangements) between BAs and their subcontractors. It is important to note here that the burden of obtaining assurances (through contracts) from subcontractors regarding safety of PHI falls on the BA rather than the CE.
  • A subcontractor will be required to notify any breaches of unsecured PHI to the BA who in turn would be required to notify the CE. The CE then notifies the affected individuals, HHS, and, if applicable, the media, of the breach, unless it has delegated such responsibilities to a BA.
  • BAs, like CEs, may not use or disclose PHI except as permitted or required by the Privacy Rule or their contracts with CEs or as required by law. If a CE and its BA have failed to enter into a BA contract or other arrangement, then the BA may use or disclose PHI only as necessary to perform its obligations for the CE.
  • Other proposed changes to the Privacy Rule include:
    • Certain material changes to the Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP) issued by a CE or by a BA, if delegated so by a CE through contract
    • A number of changes to the definition of “marketing” in the Privacy Rule at § 164.501
    • Provisions for individuals to request restriction of disclosure of certain PHI to a health plan under certain circumstances
    • New restrictions on sale of PHI by CEs and BAs
    • Strengthen the right of “access” more uniformly to cover all protected health information maintained in one or more designated record sets electronically, regardless of whether the designated record set is an electronic health record

OCR has also proposed that the compliance deadline for all new and updated requirements in the Security and Privacy rules will be 180 days after the final update which I believe can be expected in Q4 this year. OCR is also proposing an additional one-year transition period to modify certain BA agreements. The NPRM further qualifies the one-year transition period as “The additional transition period would be available to a covered entity or business associate if, prior to the publication date of the modified Rules, the covered entity or business associate had an existing contract or other written arrangement with a business associate or subcontractor, respectively, that complied with the prior provisions of the HIPAA Rules and such contract or arrangement was not renewed or modified between the effective date and the compliance date of the modifications to the Rules.

Assuming that these timelines don’t change in the final rule, all CEs and BAs need to plan for full compliance with the final rules by Q2 of 2011 and for revision of existing BA agreements no later than Q2 of 2012. I want to emphasize here that the current BAs (as defined in section § 160.103  of 45 CFR 160) must already be in compliance with the current  Privacy Rule and certain provisions of the current Security Rule beginning February 18, 2010 as required by the HITECH Act. The new deadlines will apply only to the new BAs (see 2. a-f above)  and for all CEs and current BAs to comply with any new or updated requirements in the final rules.

So, what are the highlights in this NPRM? We have known all along (from the HITECH Act) that the BAs need to comply with the Privacy Rule and certain provisions of the Security Rule. The real highlight to me in this NPRM is the expansion of the definition of a BA. Pretty much everyone (including all subcontractors and others) that has the custody of PHI will now have to comply with both the Security and Privacy Rules. Another highlight to me is the expected compliance deadlines as discussed in the previous paragraph.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ll provide an in-depth coverage of the updates to Security and Privacy Rules in two of my upcoming posts.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments. We would also obviously like to hear if you need any consulting support in order to prepare for the anticipated HIPAA changes.


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Kamal Govindaswamy

Posted on

July 16, 2010