Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information. Final Privacy Rule Preamble.. Section 160.306(b)(3) - Requiring that Complaints be Filed with the Secretary Within a Certain Period of Time


Comment: A number of commenters, primarily privacy and disability advocacy organizations, suggested that the regulation require that complaints be filed with the Secretary by a certain time. These commenters generally recommended that the time period for filing a complaint should commence to run from the time when the individual knew or had reason to know of the violation or omission. Another comment suggested that a requirement to file a complaint with the Secretary within 180 days of the alleged noncompliance is a problem because a patient may, because of his or her medical condition, be unable to access his or her records within that time frame.

Response: We agree with the commenters that complainants should generally be required to submit complaints in a timely fashion. Federal regulations implementing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide that "[a] complaint must be filed not later than '180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination' unless the time for filing is extended by the responsible Department official or his designee." 45 CFR 80.7(b). Other civil rights laws, such as the Age Discrimination Act, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (state and local government services), also use this approach. Under civil rights laws administered by the EEOC, individuals have 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act to file a charge with EEOC (or 300 days if there is a state or local fair employment practices agency involved).

Therefore, in the final rule we require that complaints be filed within 180 days of when the complainant knew or should have known that the act or omission complained of occurred unless this time limit is waived by the Secretary for good cause shown. We believe that an investigation of a complaint is likely to be most effective if persons can be interviewed and documents reviewed as close to the time of the alleged violation as possible. Requiring that complaints generally be filed within a certain period of time increases the likelihood that the Secretary will have necessary and reliable information. Moreover, we are taking this approach in order to encourage complainants to file complaints as soon as possible. By receiving complaints in a timely fashion, we can, if such complaints prove valid, reduce the harm caused by the violation.