Privacy Rights Regulation Reopened for Review

Article excerpt

The end of February marks the end of many Clinton administration issues.

The pardons, the gifts, the scandal and maybe the end of the new patient privacy policy.

One of the final acts of the prior administration was the new federal privacy rights for personal health information. These "Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information" are part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

But at the end of January, after much prodding from the health industry, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the reopening the final regulation for review.

HIPAA is not new, but the privacy issue is.

Congress was required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 to enact a comprehensive national medical record privacy standard by Aug. 21, 1999. But when Congress didn't make the deadline, HIPAA required that the Department of Health and Human Services issue a regulation.

HHS released the regulations in several sections. The proposed regulations on privacy were published in November 1999 and the final version of the regulation was approved and released at the end of December 2000. These were the nation's first-ever standards for protecting personal health records, according to HHS.

But as quickly as the Clinton version of the rules appeared on the books, they may as quickly disappear.

HHS, under the Congressional Review Act, was legally required to submit the regulation for consideration by Congress for a 60-day period. According to a statement by HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, "due to an oversight under the prior administration" this was not done. Because of the oversight, the effective date of the regulation has been delayed until April 14. …