Coronavirus response: OCR eases on HIPAA enforcement during pandemic

April 6, 2020

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced that it was excercising "discretion" in pursuing HIPAA privacy violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced that it was excercising "discretion" in pursuing HIPAA privacy violations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced, effective immediately, that it will exercise its enforcement discretion and will not impose penalties for violations of certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule against health care providers or their business associates for the good faith uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by business associates for public health and health oversight activities during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency," reads a news release.

The revised rules was issued to support Federal public health authorities and health oversight agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), state and local health departments, and state emergency operations centers who need access to COVID-19 related data, including protected health information (PHI). The HIPAA Privacy Rule already permits covered entities to provide this data, and today's announcement now permits business associates to also share this data without risk of a HIPAA penalty.

"The CDC, CMS, and state and local health departments need quick access to COVID-19 related health data to fight this pandemic," said Roger Severino, OCR Director, in the news release. "Granting HIPAA business associates greater freedom to cooperate and exchange information with public health and oversight agencies can help flatten the curve and potentially save lives."

Read more of Medical Economics COVID-19 coverage.