Posted on July 1, 2021 at 6:00 am
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The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects our privacy when it comes to personal health issues. You may be wondering what HIPAA covers and what organizations must abide by HIPAA. Here are some fast facts about HIPAA to provide some answers and help you dig even deeper into this act.
What is HIPAA? Who must follow the rules of HIPAA? What rights do I have under HIPAA? What are HIPAA’s limitations?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA, operates under a Privacy Rule that provides guidelines as to when citizens can control who accesses their health information, have input on their health records, and access copies of their records.
Organizations that must follow HIPAA are covered entities. Covered entities include:
The penalties for violating HIPAA may be civil penalties of large fines, criminal penalties of jail time, or both.
Most school districts, employers, child protective services, law enforcement, and life insurers do not have to follow HIPAA, though they may have access to medical information about you.
Under HIPAA, you have the right to ask for a copy of your healthcare records (except for psychotherapy notes) and cannot be denied access if you haven’t paid your bill.
HIPAA also gives you the right to ask that any wrong or incomplete information be changed in your records.
Information about your health can be legally shared with certain organizations outside your doctor’s office to protect public health, such as reporting total numbers of flu cases in an area. HIPAA gives you the right to know who accesses your information.
You can also request that your health information not be given to specific people.
What about HIPAA and COVID-19? When can people ask me about my vaccination status? When can my employer ask if I have COVID-19?
COVID-19 vaccines do count as protected health information (PHI) and are covered by HIPAA.
HIPAA does not apply to employers or your employment records, even if health related.
Just as employers are legally allowed to require uniforms, employers can require that employees wear a mask to work.
An employer can require employees to provide their vaccination status, such as a copy of their vaccine card, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent guidance for the workplace. However, if an employer asks why a person is not vaccinated, they may be in violation of other federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA).
There is no current requirement to get a COVID-19 vaccination at the state or federal level, but there is precedent for legal vaccine requirements.
Chiu, Allyson. Explaining HIPAA: No, it doesn’t ban questions about your vaccination status. The Spokesman-Review, May 26, 2021.
An explanation of when you may be asked about your vaccination status; recent misconceptions about HIPAA in the news; and some tips for respectful conversations
Quick Reference to HIPAA compliance. Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, 2008.
A comprehensive guide for those in professional positions that has information for when your organization may need to adhere to HIPAA guidelines and how to do that.
Update on HIPAA and Covid-19. Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 24 April 2020. Webinar.
Experts from the Office for Civil Rights offer explanations of when COVID-19 medical information may be shared in compliance with HIPAA.
McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk. “Could HIPAA Changes Weaken Patient Privacy?” Health Information Security, 9 March 2021.
Medical professionals from the Association of Health Information Outsourcing Services discuss proposed changes to HIPAA under Donald Trump’s administration and how healthcare professionals balance convenience for patients and protecting patient information.
Gale in Context: Science
Learn more about HIPAA with our digital resource Gale in Context: Science.
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