Comment: One comment sought clarification about how disclosures of protected health information would occur within the Veterans Affairs programs for veterans and their dependents.
Response: We appreciate the commenter's request for clarification as to how the rules will affect disclosures of protected health information in the specific context of Veteran's Affairs programs. Veterans health care programs under 38 U.S.C. chapter 17 are defined as "health plans." Without sufficient details as to the particular aspects of the Veterans Affairs programs that this comment views as problematic, we cannot comment substantively on this concern.
Comment: One comment suggested that the final regulation clarify that the analysis applied to the substance abuse regulations apply to laws governing Veteran's Affairs health records.
Response: Although we realize some difference may exist between the laws, we believe the discussion of federal substance abuse confidentiality regulations in the "Relationship to Other Federal Laws" preamble provides guidance that may be applied to the laws governing Veteran's Affairs ("VA") health records. In most cases, a conflict will not exist between these privacy rules and the VA programs. For example, some disclosures allowed without patient consent or authorization under the privacy regulation may not be within the VA statutory list of permissible disclosures without a written consent. In such circumstances, the covered entity would have to abide by the VA statute, and no conflict exists. If the disclosures permitted by the VA statute come within the permissible disclosures of our rules, no conflict exists. In some cases, our rules may demand additional requirements, such as obtaining the approval of a privacy board or Institutional Review Board if a covered entity seeks to disclose protected health information for research purposes without the individual's authorization. A covered entity subject to the VA statute will need to ensure that it meets the requirements of both that statute and the regulation below. If a conflict arises, the covered entity should evaluate the specific potential conflicting provisions under the implied repeal analysis set forth in the "Relationship to Other Federal Laws" discussion in the preamble.