February 08,2019

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Wyden, Murray Raise Health Privacy Concerns in Trump HIPAA Proposal

As Comment Period Closes, Top Senate Democratic Health Care Leaders Say Trump Administration Must Explain Proposed Changes to Rules Governing Release of Personal Health Information

Washington, D.C. – Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., today called on the Trump Administration to explain its policies regarding disclosure of protected health information amid new efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to change the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules to make people’s medical records more readily available to other individuals and outside entities.

“People expect to have significant control over who sees their medical records other than their care providers,” Wyden said. “In an era of increasing threats to American’s privacy, the Trump Administration is eyeing ways to allow more entities to learn about your physical and mental wellbeing instead of strengthening privacy protections and accountability when that privacy is violated. That’s a dangerous approach that deserves critical scrutiny if the Administration chooses to proceed.”

“If approached correctly, improvements in information sharing can promote coordinated care, help lower health costs, and improve people’s health outcomes; however if done incorrectly it can make patients fearful about how their personal data is used and lead them to withhold important information from care providers or even forego care altogether,” said Senator Murray. “We need to make sure patients are confident their personal information is handled appropriately, and that means making sure any changes to how that information is managed are considered with care, and their consequences fully understood. I’ll be watching how the Administration proceeds on this issue carefully.”

The letter comes in response to a December 12, 2018 announcement by HHS that it was considering a number of potentially significant changes to regulations and policies governing the privacy and security of health information under HIPAA. HHS contends the changes are needed to address the opioid epidemic and to improve coordination of care. However, the proposed changes would extend far beyond the known benefits of coordinated care and could dramatically reduce HIPAA protections by allowing greater access to an individual’s health information by others while reducing the rights currently afforded patients. The comment period on these proposals closes on February 12, 2018.

In the letter, sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the senators also raise concerns that the HHS Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing HIPAA, has failed to adequately inform Congress of its efforts to ensure compliance with the privacy law and report the frequency of breaches of patients personal health information as required.

The full letter can be found here.