The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—HIPAA—turns 25 years old in August, and experts say it’s time for the patient privacy law to finally live up to its promise.
While HIPAA mostly succeeded in safeguarding patient health information created in the healthcare system, it hasn’t enabled widespread information sharing and doesn’t really protect health-relevant information outside the traditional healthcare system.
Most experts agreed the nation’s health privacy rules are long overdue for an overhaul, given all the changes that have taken place in healthcare and technology since 1996, though some insiders think the current regulatory system works well enough.
CMS in December unveiled proposed changes to HIPAA regulations to ramp up information sharing. The measures have ample support from providers, health plans, technology vendors and privacy experts. But there’s a growing need for more robust protection of patient health information and health-relevant data to ensure industry stakeholders can successfully use digital data to improve patient outcomes.
The proposed rule aims to achieve two key goals: give patients more control over their data while at the same time make it easier for clinicians to share patient data with other providers, insurers and social service agencies for coordinating patient care. Experts say the plan would help shift providers’ mindset from protecting patient health information to sharing it, which was HIPAA’s original goal.
Those changes were in line with the Trump administration’s focus on ensuring regulations don’t stand in the way of patients being able to access their health information, with updates like shortening the period in which covered entities’ are required to respond to patients’ record requests from 30 to 15 days. The rule builds on the “Right of Access Initiative” that HHS’ Office for Civil Rights announced last year, as well as former HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan’s push to eliminate barriers to coordinated care. It also aligns with the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s recent rule regulating interoperability and information blocking.
It’s unclear whether the Biden administration will move forward with the proposals, although several of the planned changes have bipartisan support.