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11/2/2008
08:33 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
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Inspector General Confirms It: Little HIPAA Enforcement

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 was set into law about 12 years ago, the security rules went into effect earlier this decade. Hospitals knew these regulations were coming long ago, so why is compliance so lax?

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 was set into law about 12 years ago, the security rules went into effect earlier this decade. Hospitals knew these regulations were coming long ago, so why is compliance so lax?A nationwide review of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) HIPAA compliance by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General found that little action was taken by governed organizations (health care providers and others that collect, store, or manage patient data) to implement adequate security controls.

This is from an overview of the IG's findings:

CMS had no effective mechanism to ensure that covered entities were complying with the HIPAA Security Rule or that electronic protected health information was being adequately protected. We noted that CMS had an effective process for receiving, categorizing, tracking, and resolving complaints.

We recommended that CMS establish policies and procedures for conducting HIPAA Security Rule compliance reviews of covered entities. CMS did not agree with our findings because it believed that its complaint-driven enforcement process has furthered the goal of voluntary compliance. However, CMS agreed with our recommendation to establish specific policies and procedures for conducting compliance reviews of covered entities. We maintain that adding these reviews to its oversight process will enhance CMS's ability to determine whether the HIPAA Security Rule is being properly implemented.

The HIPAA Security Rule is fairly simple: entities that manage patient data need to protect that data by making sure it stays confidential, that it isn't altered, and can't be accessed by those not authorized.

Hospitals knew these rules were coming since 1996. And while the final HIPAA rules went into effect in April 2005 for large health organizations, protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information should be considered basic due diligence. And it's time, in my opinion, that any organization that has failed to put in place the most basic of measures to secure patient privacy be fined.

You can find a copy of the full IG report here.

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