HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt has formally announced that he has delegated subpoena powers to the director of the Office for Civil Rights at HHS and the authority for the director to re-delegate subpoena power for the investigation of potential violations of the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Patient Safety Quality Improvement Act.
HIPAA provides authority for the imposition of civil and criminal penalties for violations. The office has been designated as the lead agency at HHS for receiving healthcare information privacy complaints and privacy rule enforcement. According to HHS, the law "authorizes the issuance of subpoenas requiring the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of any evidence that relates to any matter under investigation by the secretary and the enforcement of such a subpoena in court in event of refusal to comply."
Leavitt's announcement was published in the Federal Register
on Monday. In a separate announcement, Leavitt also granted subpoena power to the CMS to enforce other areas of HIPAA, including rules governing "transaction and code sets."
"There is no particular significance to the timing," said Susan McAndrew, deputy director for health information privacy at the civil rights office. The office already had the ability to obtain subpoenas by going through the HHS secretary, so the recent delegation of authority would simply streamline the process, she said. -- by Joseph Conn