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HHS seeks to strengthen HIPAA Privacy Rule for reproductive health care

HHS seeks to strengthen HIPAA Privacy Rule for reproductive health care

New measures aim to protect patient-provider confidentiality and reproductive health care access.


Why it matters: 

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has proposed new measures to strengthen the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule in response to the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. These measures aim to protect patient-provider confidentiality related to reproductive health care access, including abortion care.

Related: Reproductive health data isn’t always protected under HIPAA


Driving the news: 

On April 12, 2023, the HHS issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to prohibit the use or disclosure of protected health information (PHI) in investigations or prosecutions related to legal reproductive health care. This move follows President Biden's Executive Order 14076, which directed the HHS to consider ways to bolster patient-provider confidentiality and protect sensitive information related to reproductive health care services.

RelatedNPRM to support reproductive health fact sheet


In the know: 

The proposed rule changes would extend privacy protections to healthcare providers, insurers, patients, and others involved in reproductive health care. This includes prenatal care, abortion, miscarriage management, infertility treatment, contraception use, and treatment for reproductive-related conditions such as ovarian cancer.


What they're saying: 

"When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, nearly half a century of precedent changed overnight," said Secretary Xavier Becerra. "The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to protecting women's lawful access to reproductive health care, including abortion care. President Biden signed not one but two executive orders calling on HHS to take action to meet this moment and we have wasted no time in doing so. Today's action is yet another important step HHS is taking to protect patients accessing critical care."


OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer added that the proposed rule aims to safeguard trust in the patient-provider relationship and ensure that private medical records will not be used against individuals for seeking lawful care.



The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has heightened concerns about patient health information and privacy. This has led to increased efforts from the Biden Administration to protect access to reproductive health care services and strengthen privacy protections.


The big picture: 

While the HHS is working on this rulemaking process, the current HIPAA Privacy Rule remains in effect. As per the existing Privacy Rule, certain disclosures to law enforcement and others are permitted but not required, subject to specific conditions.


What's next: 

The NPRM is the beginning of a process to gather public input on the proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to provide feedback and recommendations on how to improve patient-provider confidentiality in the context of reproductive health care access. The final rule will be established after considering the comments and suggestions received.


Worth noting: 

This announcement coincides with the third convening of President Biden's Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, which aims to protect women's access to reproductive healthcare services in light of the recent changes in the legal landscape.


Bottom line: 

The proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule aim to address concerns regarding patient-provider confidentiality and access to reproductive health care services. By seeking to strengthen privacy protections in the context of a changing legal landscape, these measures highlight ongoing efforts to balance individual rights and privacy in health care.

Related HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide

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