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February 07, 2013
New HHS rule secures health information, protects privacy

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has approved a final rule that provides the public with increased protection and control of personal health information. According to the department, the changes strengthen the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, known as HIPPA.

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The rule announced January 17 expands many of the requirements to business associates of entities that receive protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors. HHS says some of the largest breaches reported have involved business associates. Penalties are increased for noncompliance based on the level of negligence, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation.

The changes mean patients can ask for a copy of their electronic medical records in an electronic form. And when individuals pay by cash, they can instruct the care provider not to share information about the treatment with their health plan.

Leon Rodriguez, of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, says the changes “also strengthen the ability of my office to vigorously enforce the HIPPA privacy and security protections, regardless of whether the information is being held by a health plan, a healthcare provider, or one of their business associates.”

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