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The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a limited waiver of HIPAA sanctions and penalties in Louisiana due to the devastation likely to be caused by Tropical Storm Barry as it made landfall on July 13 as a hurricane. The HHS announced the public health emergency in Louisiana on Friday July 12, 2019.
The waiver only applies to healthcare organizations in the emergency area and only for the length of time stated in the declaration. The waiver only applies to specific provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and only for a maximum period of 72 hours after the hospital has implemented its emergency protocol.
Once the time period for the waiver ends, healthcare providers will be required once again to comply with all aspects of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, even for patients still under their at the time the declaration ends, even if the 72-hour time window has not expired.
While a waiver has been issued, the Privacy Rule does not prohibit the sharing of protected health information during disasters to assist patients and make sure they get the care they require. That includes sharing some health information with friends, family members and other individuals directly involved in a patient’s care.
The HIPAA Privacy Rule allows the sharing of PHI for public health activities and to prevent or reduce a serious and imminent threat to health or safety. HIPAA-covered entities are also permitted to share information with disaster relief organizations that have been authorized by law to assist with disaster relief efforts without first obtaining permission from patients.
During natural disasters the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules remain in effect, although following the secretarial declaration, sanctions and penalties against HIPAA covered entities are waived for the following aspects of the HIPAA Privacy Rule:
- The requirements to obtain a patient’s agreement to speak with family members or friends involved in the patient’s care. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).
- The requirement to honor a request to opt out of the facility directory. See 45 CFR164.510(a).
- The requirement to distribute a notice of privacy practices. See 45 CFR 164.520.
- The patient’s right to request privacy restrictions. See 45 CFR 164.522(a).
- The patient’s right to request confidential communications. See 45 CFR 164.522(b).
“We are working closely with state health and emergency management officials to anticipate the communities’ healthcare needs and be ready to meet them,” said Secretary Azar. The HHS emergency declaration and limited HIPAA waiver can be viewed on this link (PDF).