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Roger Severino Named New Director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has a new leader. The Trump Administration has chosen former civil rights trial attorney Roger Severino to lead the HIPAA enforcement efforts of the Office for Civil Rights.

Severino joins OCR from the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, where he served as Director since May 2015.

A formal announcement about the appointment of the new OCR Director has yet to be issued; however, the Heritage Foundation has confirmed that Severino is no longer on the staff and his name has been added to the HHS website. A spokesperson for OCR has also confirmed that Severino will be the new director and Severino’s LinkedIn profile has also been updated to include his new position as OCR chief.

Severino has a background in civil rights litigation, having worked as a trial attorney for the Department of Justice for seven years in the Housing and Civil Enforcement division. During his time at the DOJ, Severino enforced the Fair Housing Act, Title II and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Severino has also worked as Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty between July 2003 and May 2008.

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While Severino has civil rights experience and has spent time working in the section of the DOJ that enforces criminal HIPAA statutes, he does not appear to have much experience of privacy and security issues.

LGBT Groups Express Concern About New OCR Appointment

Many human rights organizations have expressed concern over the appointment of Severino as head of OCR due to the views he has previously expressed about transgender people and same-sex marriages. Severino has authored a number of reports in which he has spoken out in opposition of LGBT rights and pro-LGBT legislation. Severino has also spoken out against Planned Parenthood.

JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign went as far as saying ‘There isn’t a more dangerous person to lead HHSGov’s Office for Civil Rights than LGBTQ opponent Roger Severino.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right, said “The Office for Civil Rights at HHS is essential to ensuring that all people can lead healthy lives, free of discriminatory barriers. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination based on race, sex, disability and age in health programs and activities, is key to achieving this goal. Henderson went on to say, “Strong and experienced leadership at OCR committed to fully enforcing Section 1557 is therefore critical. Mr. Severino is not that leader.”

OCR is likely to be taken in a different direction under Severino’s leadership than it was under the directorship of Jocelyn Samuels. What impact Severino will have on OCR’s HIPAA enforcement activity and HIPAA guidance remains to be seen.

Author: Steve Alder is the editor-in-chief of HIPAA Journal. Steve is responsible for editorial policy regarding the topics covered on HIPAA Journal. He is a specialist on healthcare industry legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA and other related legal topics. Steve has developed a deep understanding of regulatory issues surrounding the use of information technology in the healthcare industry and has written hundreds of articles on HIPAA-related topics.