HHS Extends Public Comment Period for Proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule Changes

March 18, 2021

On March 9, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an extension of the public comment period from March 22, 2021, to May 6, 2021, for its proposed modifications to regulations implementing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH).

HHS initially released the proposed rule on January 21, 2021. It is now extending the comment period to give the public additional time to consider the proposed changes and give stakeholders such as HIPAA-covered entities, business associates and health information technology vendors more time to submit comments about the policies. HIPAA-covered entities include hospitals, physicians and other healthcare providers, payors and insurers.

According to Acting Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Director Robinsue Frohboese, “OCR anticipates a high degree of public interest in providing input on the proposals because the HIPAA Privacy Rule affects nearly anyone who interacts with the health care system. The 45-day extension of the comment period to May 6, 2021, will give the public a full opportunity to consider the proposals and submit comments to inform future policy.” As of March 18, 2021, regulations.gov showed that OCR had received 772 comments on the proposed rule.

As mentioned in McGuireWoods’ February 4, 2021 legal alert discussing the proposed rule, if HHS finalizes the proposed rule, HIPAA-covered entities and business associates must update their policies, procedures, security standards, notices of privacy practices, authorization and disclosure forms, and business associate agreements, among other documents, to reflect the modifications made by the proposed rule. Additionally, the proposed rule would give providers more flexibility to disclose protected health information while providing care to their patients, including encouraging providers to engage in a greater degree of care coordination.

Interested stakeholders wishing to submit comments regarding the proposed rule may do so on or before May 6, 2021, electronically or by mail.

McGuireWoods will continue to monitor the proposed rule, which is part of the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care initiative launched by HHS to promote value-based healthcare. The initiative examines federal regulations that impede efforts among healthcare providers and health plans to better coordinate care for patients. For additional information on privacy and security of health information and the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, see McGuireWoods’ previous alerts and insights