Health care providers, health clearinghouses, health plans and their business associates generally must start complying with new federal data breach notification rules on September 23, 2009.
The new “Breach Notification For Unsecured Protected Health Information” regulation (Breach Regulation) published here in today’s Federal Register requires health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (Covered Entities) covered under the personal health information privacy and security rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) to notify affected individuals following a “breach” of “unsecured” protected health information. The Breach Regulation is part of a series of guidance that HHS is issuing to implement new and stricter personal health information privacy and data security requirements for Covered Entities added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act signed into law on February 17, 2009 as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
HITECH Act Data Breach and Unsecured PHI Rules
Published in the Federal Register on August 24, 2009, the new Breach Regulation implements the HITECH Act requirement that Covered Entities and their business associates notify affected individuals, the Secretary of HHS, and in some cases, the media, when a breach of “unsecured protected health information” happens and the form, manner, and timing of that notification. Covered Entities must begin complying with the new Breach Regulation on September 23, 2009.
Part of a series of new HHS rules implementing recent changes to HIPAA enacted under the HITECH Act to strengthen existing federally mandates requiring Covered Entities to safeguard protected health information, the Breach Regulation will obligate Covered Entities and business associates to provide certain notifications following a breach of “protected health information” that not secured at the time of the breach through the use of a technology or methodology meeting minimum standards issued by HHS pursuant to other provisions of the HITECH Act.
Under the HITECH Act, the breach notification obligations contained in the Breach Notification only apply to a breach of “unsecured protected health information.” The Breach Regulation exempts breaches of protected health information that qualify as “secured” under separately issued HHS and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) standards for encryption and destruction of protected health information from its breach notification requirements.
For purposes of the HITECH Act, electronic protected health information is considered “unsecured” unless the Covered Entity has satisfied certain minimum standards for the protection of that data established pursuant to the HITECH Act. Earlier this year, HHS and the FTC issued interim rules defining the minimum encryption and destruction technologies and methodologies that Covered Entities must use to render protected health information unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals for purposes of determining when protected health information is “unsecured” for purposes of the HITECH Act. Concurrent with its publication of the Breach Regulation, HHS also released guidance updating and clarifying this previously issued guidance.
OCR officials are continuing to work on other guidance concerning the amendments to HIPAA’s privacy and security rules enacted under the HITECH Act and the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Differences in the effective dates of certain requirements generally will necessitate that Covered Entitites and their business associates move forward to comply with the Breach Regulations and other aspects of these changes before some of these other rules or guidance relating to them takes effect.
About The Author
The author of this update, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Health Practice Leader Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is nationally known for her work, publications and presentations on privacy and security of health and other sensitive information in health and managed care, employment, employee benefits, financial services, education and other contexts.
Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association and Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, and Former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising clients about health and other privacy and security matters. A popular lecturer and widely published author on privacy and data security and other related health care and health plan matters, Ms. Stamer is the Editor in Chief of the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Information Security Guide to be published by the American Bar Association Information Security Committee in 2010, as well as the author of “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA,” and a host of other highly regarded publications. She has continuously advises employers, health care providers, health insurers and administrators, health plan sponsors, employee benefit plan fiduciaries, schools, financial services providers, governments and others about privacy and data security, health care, insurance, human resources, technology, and other legal and operational concerns. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management matters. Her insights on health care, health insurance, human resources and related matters appear in the Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, her experience, involvements, programs or publications, see here.
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