NRPM: Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information. b. Application to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

11/03/1999

We propose to permit protected health information to be used without individual authorization by and among components of the Department of Veterans Affairs that determine eligibility for or entitlement to, or that provide, benefits under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

This exemption recognizes that the Veterans Administration is two separate components: The Veterans Health Administration (which operates health care facilities) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (which operates the Veterans disability program). The close integration of the operations of the two components may make requiring individual authorizations before transferring protected health information particularly disruptive. Further, the Veterans Health Administration transfers medical information on a much larger scale than most other covered entities, and requiring individual authorization for transfers among components could compromise the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability to fulfill its statutory mandates.

Nonetheless, we invite comments on this approach. In particular, we are interested in whether the requirement for individual authorization for disclosure of medical records for use in benefits calculations would increase privacy protections for veterans, or whether it would be of questionable value since most veterans would authorize disclosure if it were tied to their benefits. We also are interested in comments on whether the proposed approach would unreasonably hamper the Department of Veterans Affairs in its ability to make accurate benefits determinations in cases in which individuals chose not to authorize disclosure.