Although the promise of these proposed standards cannot become reality for many patients because of the gaps in our authority, we believe they would provide important new protections. By placing strict boundaries around the ways covered entities could use and disclose information, these rules would protect health information at its primary sources: health plans and health care providers. By requiring covered entities to inform patients about how their information is being used and shared, by requiring covered entities to provide access to that information, and by ensuring that authorizations would be truly voluntary, these rules would provide patients with important new tools for understanding and controlling information about them. By requiring covered entities to document their privacy practices, this rule would focus attention on the importance of privacy, and reduce the ways in which privacy is compromised through inattention or misuse.
With the Secretary’s Recommendations and these proposed rules, we are attempting to further two important goals: to allow the free flow of health information needed to provide and promote high quality health care, while assuring that individuals’ health information is properly protected. We seek a balance that permits important uses of information privacy of people who seek care and healing. We believe our Recommendations find that balance, and have attempted to craft this proposed rule to strike that balance as well.
We continue to believe, however, that federal legislation is the best way to guarantee these protections. The HIPAA legislative authority does not allow full implementation of our recommended policies in this proposed rule. The legislation limits the entities that can be held responsible for their use of protected health information, and the ways in which the covered entities can be held accountable. For these and other reasons, we continue to call upon Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation. Publication of this proposed rule does not diminish our firm conviction that such legislation should be enacted as soon as possible.