Legislators Criticize HHS About the Proposed Changes on Reproductive Health Care HIPAA Privacy Rule

Legislators and state Attorneys General wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Xavier Becerra, criticizing the proposed change to the HIPAA Privacy Rule that wants to better reproductive health information privacy.

Legislators Criticize HIPAA Privacy Rule Change for Not Doing Much to Protect Patient Privacy

As a reaction to the proposed revisions, Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) had written to the HHS Secretary asking the HHS to take additional steps to safeguard the privacy of U.S. citizens, and not just implement the proposed modifications to reproductive health information but on all protected health information (PHI) categories.

The proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule modifications, if approved, will strengthen protections for a number of categories of PHI however the legislators say the modifications do not do much and the protections should be expanded to cover all PHI and make sure it has similar protections like the contents of telephone calls, email messages, SMS, and geolocation information to safeguard Americans from warrantless government monitoring.

The lawmakers ask the HHS to revise the proposed Privacy Rule modification to necessitate law enforcement services to acquire a warrant prior to making physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare companies to give their patients’ files. Rather than the present text of the HIPAA Privacy Rule – 64.512(f)(1)(ii) – allowing law enforcement to get PHI with a subpoena, admin request, or court order, the Privacy Rule ought to forbid such disclosures except if there exists a search warrant, released by a judge, upon seeing a probable cause of a crime.

Also, in the event of disclosure of medical records after a search warrant is offered, law enforcement must be forbidden from sharing the information with other law enforcement institutions, except if the disclosures are relevant to the investigation of the exact same alleged offense. They likewise require the law to be modified to make sure that people are informed about any sharing of their PHI with law enforcement services. The legislators say such a modification would be in line with the protections provided to other sensitive information covered by federal legislation and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The legislators think that the proposed modifications aren’t enough to stop rogue state Attorneys General from trying to get the personal health information of Americans, which includes, but not restricted to, the data of people wanting a legal abortion or medical help with gender change. Such healthcare choices must be taken by every person whereas particular state Attorneys General think those choices are every person’s business.

The letter has the signature of the following legislators: Sens. Bernard Sanders, Peter Welch, Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Duckworth, Chris Van Hollen, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Martin Heinrich, Edward J. Markey, Mazie K. Hirono, John Fetterman, Alex Padilla, Debbie Stabenow, Raphael Warnock, Kirsten Gillibrand, Maria Cantwell, Cory A. Booker, Ted W. Lieu, Pramila Jayapal, James P. McGovern, Delia C. Ramirez, and Madeleine Dean, and Reps. Barbera Lee, Josh Gottheimer, Anna G. Eshoo, Adam B. Schiff, Raúl M. Grijalva, Nikema Williams, Veronica Escobar, Earl Blumenauer, Jasmine Crockett, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib, Henry C. Johnson Jr., Ilhan Omar, David J. Trone, Nydia M. Velázquez, Andrea Salinas, Val Hoyle, Mikie Sherill, Suzanne Bonamici, Zoe Lofgren, and Becca Balint.

19 State Attorneys General Assert Reproductive Health Information Privacy Rule Update is Unlawful

Although a number of legislators feel the plans of the Biden Administration do not do much to safeguard the privacy of American citizens, other legislators are challenging the effort to alter the HIPAA Privacy Rule to stop disclosures of reproductive health data to law enforcement agencies and state the proposed modifications will stop the imposition of state regulations and will hinder investigations of women seeking unlawful abortions. According to Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skemetti’s letter to the HHS Secretary challenging the proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule change, the HHS doesn’t have the power to alter legislation in contradiction of the law approved by Congress. The letter has the signature of 18 other state Attorneys General from Alabama, Arkansas, Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

They dispute that the Supreme Court’s decision to take away the Federal right to abortion and put the issue under each state permitted states to set laws forbidding or limiting abortions, however changing federal HIPAA law to stop disclosures of reproductive health data would basically make it hard, if not impossible, to impose state legislation. States like Tennessee which has approved a prohibition on abortions for state locals wouldn’t be authorized to acquire data on state residents that go out of state to elude state regulations and have abortion treatments.

As stated in Attorney General Skemetti’s letter, the Biden Administration is driving a false narrative that states treat pregnant women as criminals and penalize healthcare specialists that offer lifesaving treatment. According to this lie, the Administration wants to take back from the people the control over abortion defying the Constitution and Dobbs. The proposed rule here carries on that effort. Skemetti claims the planned HIPAA update is against the law and doesn’t serve any legit need.

The broad meaning of “reproductive healthcare” in the planned rule which consists of data associated with reproductive organs, irrespective of whether the health care is associated with a person’s pregnancy or if the person is of reproductive age, means there’s the possibility for the proposed rule to meddle with the capability of state regulators to investigate child abuse incidents and other major crimes. Skemetti additionally indicated concern that the planned rule would likewise impair state laws regarding experimental gender-transition treatments for minors and help to advance the radical transgender policy goals of the Biden Administration.

Attorney General Skemetti remarks that for over 20 years the Federal HIPAA laws have served to safeguard the privacy of American citizens and make sure their health information continues to be private and confidential; nevertheless, HIPAA allows disclosure of health data to law enforcement and state regulators to secure public health safety and welfare, and the planned change will keep states from carrying out that vital duty. The Attorneys General have requested the withdrawal of the proposed HHS rule change since it is against the law and surpasses the statutory authority of HHS.

Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAA News section of HIPAA Coach and an experienced journalist in the healthcare sector. She specializes in healthcare and HIPAA compliance, making her a go-to source for information on healthcare regulations. Her work focuses on the importance of patient privacy and secure information handling. Elizabeth also has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Follow on Twitter: You can follow Elizabeth on twitter at https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone