HHS Secretary Alex Azar Assures Improvements to Federal Health Secrecy Laws

August 3, 2018


At a July 27 speech at The Heritage Foundation, Secretary of the Division of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, clarified that the HHS will be starting many updates to health secrecy rules over the next months, including upgrades to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and 45 CFR Part 2 (Part 2) rules.

The procedure is expected to begin in the next couple of months. Requests for information on HIPAA and Part 2 will be released, after which action will be taken to improve both sets of laws to remove problems to value-based care and support attempts to fight the opioid disaster. Law modifications are also going to be made to eliminate some of the obstacles to data sharing which are presently hindering efforts by healthcare suppliers to increase the use of electronic health technology.

These appeals for information are part of a complete appraisal of existing laws that are obstructing the capability of physicians, hospices, and payers to improve the quality healthcare facilities and organization of care while assisting to decrease healthcare charges.

That procedure has already started with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) already having suggested one of the most important modifications to Medicare in recent years – A modification to how doctors are paid for basic assessment visits.

Presently there are five levels of payments for visits, with payments rising for visits of increasing difficulty. While this system makes sense, in practice it involves a substantial administrative load on doctors, needing them to defend why they are demanding for a visit at a higher level. The CMS has suggested decreasing the five levels to two. That simple alteration is projected to save doctors more than 50 hours a year – over a week’s work – with that time able to be redirected to providing better attention to patients.

The CMS has also presented an appeal for information of problems with Stark’s Law, which avoids doctors from referring patients to other doctors/practices with which they have a fiscal association, except in specific situations. Appeals for information on HIPAA, Part 2, and the Anti-Kickback Law will follow.

Healthcare suppliers that desire to voice their apprehensions about problems with HIPAA, Part 2, and the Anti-Kickback Statute must consider preparing remarks and proposals for policy updates to tackle those problems, ready for submission when the HHS releases its appeals for information.