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Changes to the HIPAA Rules are infrequent, so when updates are proposed they tend to include a slew of new requirements and updates to existing provisions. Before any updates are made, a request for information (RFI) is issued to allow the HHS to obtain feedback on aspects of the HIPAA Rules that are causing problems, and areas where improvements could be made.
Following the RFI, a notice of proposed rulemaking is issued by the HHS followed by a comment period. The comment period is the last chance for industry stakeholder, including patients and their families, to voice their opinions about the proposed changes before they are signed into law.
After issuing an RFI, the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on December 10, 2020, along with the standard 60-day comment period from the date of publication in the Federal Register (January 21, 2021). The comment period was due to expire on March 22, 2021.
Since the proposed changes include updates to the HIPAA Privacy Rule that will impact virtually everyone in the healthcare industry, the HHS has taken the decision to extend the comment period.
The proposed Privacy Rule changes include strengthening patient rights to access their own healthcare information, changes to facilitate greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals in emergencies and health crises, changes to bring greater flexibility for disclosures in emergency situations, updates to reduce the administrative burden on healthcare providers, and changes to improve information sharing for care coordination and case management.
The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights is encouraging all stakeholders to read the proposed changes and submit their feedback. All comments received will be carefully considered and will shape the final rule which is expected to be issued in late 2021/early 2022.
“OCR anticipates a high degree of public interest in providing input on the proposals because the HIPAA Privacy Rule affects nearly anyone who interacts with the health care system,” said Acting OCR Director Robinsue Frohboese. “The 45-day extension of the comment period to May 6, 2021, will give the public a full opportunity to consider the proposals and submit comments to inform future policy.”