The Congress addressed the opportunities and challenges presented by the rapid evolution of health information systems in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191, which was enacted on August 21, 1996. Sections 261 through 264 of HIPAA are known as the Administrative Simplification provisions. The major part of these Administrative Simplification provisions are found at section 262 of HIPAA, which enacted a new part C of title XI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter we refer to the Social Security Act as the "Act" and we refer to all other laws cited in this document by their names).
In section 262, Congress primarily sought to facilitate the efficiencies and cost savings for the health care industry that the increasing use of electronic technology affords. Thus, section 262 directs HHS to issue standards to facilitate the electronic exchange of information with respect to financial and administrative transactions carried out by health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers who transmit information electronically in connection with such transactions.
At the same time, Congress recognized the challenges to the confidentiality of health information presented by the increasing complexity of the health care industry, and by advances in health information systems technology and communications. Section 262 thus also directs HHS to develop standards to protect the security, including the confidentiality and integrity, of health information.
Congress has long recognized the need for protection of health information privacy generally, as well as the privacy implications of electronic data interchange and the increased ease of transmitting and sharing individually identifiable health information. Congress has been working on broad health privacy legislation for many years and, as evidenced by the self-imposed three year deadline included in the HIPAA, discussed below, believes it can and should enact such legislation. A significant portion of the first Administrative Simplification section debated on the floor of the Senate in 1994 (as part of the Health Security Act) consisted of privacy provisions. In the version of the HIPAA passed by the House of Representatives in 1996, the requirement for the issuance of privacy standards was located in the same section of the bill (section 1173) as the requirements for issuance of the other HIPAA Administrative Simplification standards. In conference, the requirement for privacy standards was moved to a separate section in the same part of HIPAA, section 264, so that Congress could link the Privacy standards to Congressional action.
Section 264(b) requires the Secretary of HHS to develop and submit to the Congress recommendations for:
- The rights that an individual who is a subject of individually identifiable health information should have.
- The procedures that should be established for the exercise of such rights.
- The uses and disclosures of such information that should be authorized or required.
The Secretary's Recommendations were submitted to the Congress on September 11, 1997. Section 264(c)(1) provides that:
If legislation governing standards with respect to the privacy of individually identifiable health information transmitted in connection with the transactions described in section 1173(a) of the Social Security Act (as added by section 262) is not enacted by [August 21, 1999], the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall promulgate final regulations containing such standards not later than [February 21, 2000]. Such regulations shall address at least the subjects described in subsection (b).
As the Congress did not enact legislation regarding the privacy of individually identifiable health information prior to August 21, 1999, HHS published proposed rules setting forth such standards on November 3, 1999, 64 FR 59918, and is now publishing the mandated final regulation.
These privacy standards have been, and continue to be, an integral part of the suite of Administrative Simplification standards intended to simplify and improve the efficiency of the administration of our health care system.