E-Health Privacy Regulations Draw Congressional Fire

Mitch Wagner writes:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an interim final rule to beef up penalties for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA), as several Congressmen criticize the agency for leaving dangerous loopholes in the law.


HHS published the rule with requests for comments Friday. It goes into effect Nov. 30 and HHS will consider all comments received by Dec. 29.

The HHS has come under fire for the way it’s been interpreting ARRA rules. On Oct. 1, six powerful House leaders sent a critical letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius. Signatories to the letter included Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Joe Barton (R-Texas):

Theirs was a beef in part over the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government and in part an argument that if medical records privacy is not assured, people won’t trust health information technology and the government’s multibillion dollar investment in IT won’t reap its intended benefits. The six deemed that a provision of the HHS rule was “not consistent with congressional intent” and urged Sebelius to “revise or repeal” the offending HHS interpretation “at the soonest appropriate opportunity.”

The letter of complaint also was signed by Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), Pete Stark (D-Calif.) John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.).

On Oct. 20, Sebelius responded to Waxman and the additional congressmen, thanking them for their “views on this important matter,” and saying she is “committed to ensuring strong privacy and security protections.” Sebelius said she would include their letter with other public comments, but did not respond to their request to change or rescind a portion of the rule.

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