The Final HIPAA Omnibus Rule: A Sharing of Accountability

Posted on February 25, 2013 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

The following is a guest post by Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, SSGB, SVP of HIM and Chief Privacy Officer, HealthPort. If you’re attending HIMSS, I’ll be doing an interview with Rita at HealthPort’s Booth 6841 at Noon on Tuesday 3/5/13. Come by and learn more about the HIPAA Omnibus Rule and get any questions you have answered.

It seems an eternity ago, four years to be exact, that the HITECH Act introduced changes to HIPAA. After much speculation, rumor, innuendo and anticipation, HHS released the final HIPAA omnibus rule, which significantly amends the original HIPAA Privacy, Security, Breach and Enforcement Rules. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius introduced the new rule by stating:

“The final rule greatly enhances a patient’s privacy protections, provides individuals new rights to their health information, and strengthens the government’s ability to enforce the law.”

Ms. Sebelius conceded that healthcare has changed dramatically since HIPAA was first enacted and that the new rule is necessary to “protect patient privacy and safeguard patients’ health information in an ever expanding digital age.”

The new rule, at 563 pages, is not brief, but covered entities can’t let that inhibit them from becoming intimately acquainted with this document. I’ve made an initial review of the rule and culled what I feel are its key concepts:

  • Business Associates (BAs) of covered entities are now, for the first time, directly liable for compliance with certain requirements of HIPAA Privacy and Security rules, including the cost of remediation of breaches for which they are responsible.
  • The rule goes so far as to revise the definition of a “breach.” This new definition promises to make the occurrence of breaches – and the required notification of breaches — more common.
  • The use and disclosure of protected health information for marketing and fundraising purposes is further limited, as is the sale of protected information without individual authorization.
  • The rule expands patients’ rights to receive electronic copies of their health information and to restrict disclosures to health plans regarding treatment for which they’ve already paid.
  • Covered entities are required to modify and redistribute their notice of privacy practice to reflect the new rule.
  • The new rule modifies Individual authorizations and other requirements to facilitate research, expedite the disclosure of child immunization proof to schools, and enable access to decedent information by family members and others.
  • The additional HITECH Act enhancements to the Enforcement Rule are adopted, including provisions addressing enforcement of noncompliance with HIPAA rules due to willful neglect.

Getting to Compliance

And now comes the challenging part – compliance! The new rule goes into effect on March 26, and covered entities and BAs are expected to comply by September 23, so there is much work to do. Hospitals and clinics need to thoroughly comprehend — and then prepare for — the sweeping changes in BA liability. They’ll need to communicate these changes and new requirements to BAs and update their BA agreements accordingly. And since BAs are now directly liable for breaches, organizations must decide how they’ll enforce their BA agreements with regard to privacy and security. Additionally, comparable agreements must now be shared between BAs and their subcontractors.

What are the keys to successful compliance?  The following tips should ensure your smooth transition into the new rule:

  • Become intimately acquainted with the new rule — and its ramifications for your organization, your BAs, and their subcontractors.
  • Identify a privacy officer within all of your partner organizations.
  • Define a process for the notification of patients in the event of a breach of their protected health information (PHI).
  • Update breach notification materials to reflect the new Rule.
  • Update, repost and redistribute your Notice of Privacy Practices.
  • Document current privacy and security practices, and conduct a risk assessment.
  • Make certain your healthcare security technology solution is flexible, secure, and scalable to handle the growing volume of audit inquiries promised by the RACs.
  • Encrypt all devices that store patient information.
  • Communicate new HIPAA requirements and expectations to BAs.
  • Update business associate agreements (BAAs) to clarify that BAs pay the cost of breach remediation, when the BA is responsible for the breach.
  • Provide a template of a comparable agreement for BAs to use with their subcontractors.
  • Monitor your partners’ efforts to protect patient data.

The new HPAA omnibus rule has arrived and the challenges it presents should not be underestimated. Communication and organization will be your keys to success!

Rita Bowen, MA, RHIA, CHPS, SSGB

Ms. Bowen is a distinguished professional with 20+ years of experience in the health information management industry.  She serves as the Sr. Vice President of HIM and Privacy Officer of HealthPort where she is responsible for acting as an internal customer advocate.  Most recently, Ms. Bowen served as the Enterprise Director of HIM Services for Erlanger Health System for 13 years, where she received commendation from the hospital county authority for outstanding leadership.  Ms. Bowen is the recipient of Mentor FORE Triumph Award and Distinguished Member of AHIMA’s Quality Management Section.  She has served as the AHIMA President and Board Chair in 2010, a member of AHIMA’s Board of Directors (2006-2011), the Council on Certification (2003-2005) and various task groups including CHP exam and AHIMA’s liaison to HIMSS for the CHS exam construction (2002).

Ms. Bowen is an established speaker on diverse HIM topics and an active author on privacy and legal health records.  She served on the CCHIT security and reliability workgroup and as Chair of Regional Committees East-Tennessee HIMSS and co-chair of Tennessee’s e-HIM group.  She is an adjunct faculty member of the Chattanooga State HIM program and UT Memphis HIM Master’s program.  She also serves on the advisory board for Care Communications based in Chicago, Illinois.