HHS' Office for Civil Rights Seeks Public Comment on Recognized Security Practices and Sharing Civil Money Penalties and Monetary Settlements Under the HITECH Act
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today released a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from the public on two requirements of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH Act), as amended in 2021. The growing number of cybersecurity threats are a significant concern driving the need for enhanced safeguards of electronic protected health information (ePHI). This RFI will enable OCR to consider ways to support the healthcare industry’s implementation of recognized security practices. The RFI also will help OCR consider ways to share funds collected through enforcement with individuals who are harmed by violations of the HIPAA Rules.
“This request for information has long been anticipated, and we look forward to reviewing the input we receive from the public and regulated industry alike on these important topics,” said OCR Director Lisa J. Pino. “I encourage those who have been historically underserved, marginalized, or subject to discrimination or systemic disadvantage to comment on this RFI, so we hear your voice and fully consider your interests in future rulemaking and guidance.”
Through today’s RFI, OCR is seeking public comment on the following provisions of law:
- Recognized Security Practices. Section 13412 of the HITECH Act requires HHS to take into consideration certain recognized security practices of covered entities (health plans, health care clearinghouses, and most health care providers) and business associates1
when determining potential fines, audit results, or other remedies for resolving potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Security Rule pursuant to an investigation, compliance review, or audit. Public Law 116-321 went into effect when it was signed into law on January 5, 2021.
One of the primary goals of this provision is to encourage covered entities and business associates to do “everything in their power to safeguard patient data.”
The RFI solicits comment on how covered entities and business associates are implementing “recognized security practices,” how they anticipate adequately demonstrating that recognized security practices are in place, and any implementation issues they would like OCR to clarify through future guidance or rulemaking.
Civil Money Penalty (CMP) and Settlement Sharing. Section 13410(c)(3) of the HITECH Act requires HHS to establish by regulation a methodology under which an individual harmed by a potential violation of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and/or Breach Notification Rules may receive a percentage of any CMP or monetary settlement collected with respect to such offense. Section 13140(d)(1) of HITECH requires that OCR base determinations of appropriate penalty amounts on the nature and extent of the violation and the nature and extent of the harm resulting from such violation. The HITECH Act does not define “harm,” nor does it provide direction to aid HHS in defining the term.
The RFI solicits public comment on the types of harms that should be considered in the distribution of CMPs and monetary settlements to harmed individuals, discusses potential methodologies for sharing and distributing monies to harmed individuals, and invites the public to submit alternative methodologies.
OCR encourages comments from all stakeholders, including patients and their families, HIPAA covered entities and their business associates, consumer advocates, health care professional associations, health information management professionals, health information technology vendors, and government entities.
Individuals seeking more information about the RFI or how to provide written or electronic comments to OCR should visit the Federal Register to learn more: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/04/06/2022-07210/considerations-for-implementing-the-health-information-technology-for-economic-and-clinical-health
Please note that comments must be submitted by June 6, 2022 in order to be considered.
1. Generally, a business associate is a person or entity that creates, receives, maintains, or transmits PHI on behalf of a covered entity for a covered function, or provides certain services to or for a covered entity that includes the disclosure of PHI. See 45 CFR 160.103.
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