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Limited Waiver of HIPAA Sanctions and Penalties During Declared Emergency
Guidance from the Office for Civil Rights

Resource Topic: HIT/Data
Resource Subtopic: Privacy and Security

Year Developed: 2017

Resource Type: Publication

Primary Audience: Enabling Staff

Language: English

Developed by: HITEQ (See other resources developed by this organization.)

Resource Summary: From the OCR: Severe disasters – such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria – impose additional challenges on health care providers. Often questions arise about the ability of entities covered by the HIPAA regulations to share information, including with friends and family, public health officials, and emergency personnel. As summarized in more detail below, the HIPAA Privacy Rule allows patient information to be shared to assist in disaster relief efforts, and to assist patients in receiving the care they need.

Resource Details: In addition, while the HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended during a public health or other emergency, the Secretary of HHS may waive certain provisions of the Privacy Rule under the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 (PL 108-276) and section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Act. From the OCR: Severe disasters -- such as Hurricane Harvey -- impose additional challenges on health care providers. Often questions arise about the ability of entities covered by the HIPAA regulations to share information, including with friends and family, public health officials, and emergency personnel. As summarized in more detail below, the HIPAA Privacy Rule allows patient information to be shared to assist in disaster relief efforts, and to assist patients in receiving the care they need. In addition, while the HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended during a public health or other emergency, the Secretary of HHS may waive certain provisions of the Privacy Rule under the Project Bioshield Act of 2004 (PL 108-276) and section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Act. The Secretary of HHS has declared a public health emergency in Texas and Louisiana following the President's declaration that a disaster exists in the States of Texas and Louisiana. Under these circumstances, the Secretary has exercised the authority to waive sanctions and penalties against a covered hospital that does not comply with the following provisions 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 CFR 164.510(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).

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $6,375,000 with 0 percentage financed with non-governmental sources. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit HRSA.gov.