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The clock is once again ticking for implementation of the patient privacy protection rules in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson has approved implementation of the new regulations, but some changes can be expected. Providers and insurers now will have until April 12, 2003, to comply with the regulations. The original HIPAA rules were scheduled to go into effect Feb. 28, with full implementation due by Feb. 29. 2003. But because of a technicality, the Bush administration halted implementation until further review.
Although Thompson is allowing HIPAA implementation to move forward without substantial changes, some of the original rules may be modified as the administration issues guidelines on how the rule should be implemented. Thompson gave examples of three areas the modifications will cover:
The privacy regulations require physicians to protect the privacy of patients’ medical information, inform patients in writing about how the practice will use their information, and handle the information in the way they told patients they would. The regulations cover health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers who conduct financial and administrative transactions electronically.
Beginning early in 2001, the Department of Health and Human Services met with lawmakers, special interest groups, health care leaders, and individual citizens to solicit their comments. In addition, HHS received more than 24,000 written comments on the matter, Thompson says. "My staff . . . found that most of the submissions broke down into similar concerns. Thousands of the comments were clearly part of mass-mailing efforts in support of a particular view," he adds.