HHS.gov Archive
August 9, 2002 Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


Overview: The Department of Health and Human Services on August 14th will publish final modifications to the Privacy Rule to ensure that the Rule provides strong privacy protection without hindering access to quality health care. President Bush and Secretary Thompson are committed to maintaining protections for the privacy of individually identifiable health information. Based on the comments received on the notice of proposed rulemaking, the Department modified a number of provisions of the Privacy Rule.

The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (the Privacy Rule) took effect on April 14, 2001. The Privacy Rule creates national standards to protect individuals' personal health information and gives patients increased access to their medical records. As required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Privacy Rule covers health plans, health care clearinghouses, and those health care providers who conduct certain financial and administrative transactions electronically. Most covered entities must comply with the Privacy Rule by April 14, 2003. Small health plans have until April 14, 2004 to comply with the Rule.

Final Modifications:

Marketing -- The final Rule requires a covered entity to obtain an individual's prior written authorization to use his or her protected health information for marketing purposes except for a face-to-face encounter or a communication involving a promotional gift of nominal value. The Department defines marketing to distinguish between the types of communications that are and are not marketing, and makes clear that a covered entity is prohibited from selling lists of patients and enrollees to third parties or from disclosing protected health information to a third party for the marketing activities of the third party, without the individual's authorization. The Rule clarifies that doctors and other covered entities communicating with patients about treatment options or the covered entity's own health-related products and services are not considered marketing. For example, health care plans can inform patients of additional health plan coverage and value-added items and services, such as discounts for prescription drugs or eyeglasses.

Consent and Notice -- The Department makes changes to protect privacy while eliminating barriers to treatment by strengthening the notice requirement and making consent for routine health care delivery purposes (known as treatment, payment, and health care operations) optional. The Rule requires covered entities to provide patients with notice of the patient's privacy rights and the privacy practices of the covered entity. The strengthened notice requires direct treatment providers to make a good faith effort to obtain patient's written acknowledgement of the notice of privacy rights and practices. The final Rule promotes access to care by removing mandatory consent requirements that would inhibit patient access to health care while providing covered entities with the option of developing a consent process that works for that entity. The Rule also allows consent requirements already in place to continue.

Uses and Disclosures Regarding Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-Regulated Products and Activities -- The final Rule permits covered entities to disclose protected health information, without authorization, to a person subject to the jurisdiction of the FDA for public health purposes related to the quality, safety or effectiveness of FDA-regulated products or activities such as collecting or reporting adverse events, dangerous products, and defects or problems with FDA-regulated products. This assures that information will continue to be available to protect public health and safety, as it is today.

Incidental Use and Disclosure -- The final Rule acknowledges that uses or disclosures that are incidental to an otherwise permitted use or disclosure may occur. Such incidental uses or disclosures are not considered a violation of the Rule provided that the covered entity has met the reasonable safeguards and minimum necessary requirements. For example, if these requirements are met, doctors' offices may use waiting room sign-in sheets, hospitals may keep patient charts at bedside, doctors can talk to patients in semi-private rooms, and doctors can confer at nurse's stations without fear of violating the rule if overheard by a passerby.

Authorization -- The final Rule clarifies the authorization requirements to the Privacy Rule to, among other things, eliminate separate authorization requirements for covered entities. Patients will have to grant permission in advance for each type of non-routine use or disclosure, but providers will not have to use different types of forms. These modifications also consolidate and streamline core elements and notification requirements.

Minimum Necessary -- The final Rule exempts from the minimum necessary standards any uses or disclosures for which the covered entity has received an authorization. The Rule previously exempted only certain types of authorizations from the minimum necessary requirement, but since the rule will only have one type of authorization, the exemption is now applied to all authorizations. Minimum necessary requirements are still in effect to ensure an individual's privacy for most other uses and disclosures.

The Department clarifies in the preamble that the minimum necessary standard is not intended to impede disclosures necessary for workers' compensation programs. The Department will actively monitor to ensure that worker's compensation programs are not unduly affected by the Rule.

Parents and Minors -- The final Rule clarifies that state law, or other applicable law, governs in the area of parents and minors. Generally, the Privacy Rule provides parents with new rights to control the health information about their minor children, with limited exceptions that are based on state or other applicable law and professional practice. For example, where a state has explicitly addressed disclosure of a minor's health information to a parent, or access to a child's medical record by a parent, the final Rule clarifies that state law governs. In addition, the final Rule clarifies that, in the special cases in which the minor controls his or her own health information under such law and that law does not define the parents' ability to access the child's health information a licensed health care provider continues to be able to exercise discretion to grant or deny such access as long as that decision is consistent with the state or other applicable law.

Business Associates -- The final Rule gives covered entities (except small health plans) up to an additional year to change existing written contracts to come into compliance with the business associate requirements. The additional time will ease the burden of covered entities renegotiating contracts all at once. The Department has also provided sample business associate contract provisions.

Research -- The final Rule facilitates researchers' use of a single combined form to obtain informed consent for the research and authorization to use or disclose protected health information for such research. The final Rule also clarifies the requirements relating to a researcher obtaining an IRB or Privacy Board waiver of authorization by streamlining the privacy waiver criteria to more closely follow the requirement of the "Common Rule," which governs federally funded research. The transition provisions have been expanded to prevent needless interruption of ongoing research.

Limited Data Set -- The final Rule permits the creation and dissemination of a limited data set (that does not include directly identifiable information) for research, public health, and health care operations. In addition, to further protect privacy, the final Rule conditions disclosure of the limited data set on a covered entity and the recipient entering into a data use agreement, in which the recipient would agree to limit the use of the data set for the purposes for which it was given, and to ensure the security of the data, as well as not to identify the information or use it to contact any individual.

Other provisions:

The final Rule also includes technical corrections and additional clarifications related to various sections of the existing rule. The final Rule is designed to ensure that protections for patient privacy are implemented in a manner that maximizes privacy while not compromising either the availability or the quality of medical care.

On July 6, 2001, the Department issued its first guidance to answer common questions and clarify certain of the Privacy Rule's provisions. The Department is committed to assisting covered entities come into compliance with the Rule. Therefore, the Department will update the guidance to reflect the modifications adopted in this final Rule. The revised guidance will be available on the HHS Office for Civil Rights Privacy Web site at www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/.


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Last revised: August 9, 2002