HHS Releases Guidance on Individuals’ Right to Medical Information

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) this past week published guidance on individuals’ right to their protected health information (PHI) under the Privacy Rule provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The guidance was issued in response to complaints the agencies have received over the years about consumer requests for PHI and other medical-related information going unanswered or even being charged for.

“Unfortunately, based on recent studies and our own enforcement experience, far too often individuals face obstacles to accessing their health information, even from entities required to comply with the HIPAA Privacy Rule,” Jocelyn Samuels, HHS director of the Office for Civil Rights, wrote. “This must change.”

The guidance says, in part:

The Privacy Rule generally requires HIPAA covered entities (health plans and most health care providers) to provide individuals, upon request, with access to the protected health information (PHI) about them in one or more “designated record sets” maintained by or for the covered entity.  This includes the right to inspect or obtain a copy, or both, of the PHI, as well as to direct the covered entity to transmit a copy to a designated person or entity of the individual’s choice.  Individuals have a right to access this PHI for as long as the information is maintained by a covered entity, or by a business associate on behalf of a covered entity, regardless of the date the information was created; whether the information is maintained in paper or electronic systems onsite, remotely, or is archived; or where the PHI originated (e.g., whether the covered entity, another provider, the patient, etc.).

Individuals have a right to access PHI in a “designated record set.”  A “designated record set” is defined at 45 CFR 164.501 as a group of records maintained by or for a covered entity that comprises the:

  • Medical records and billing records about individuals maintained by or for a covered health care provider;
  • Enrollment, payment, claims adjudication, and case or medical management record systems maintained by or for a health plan; or
  • Other records that are used, in whole or in part, by or for the covered entity to make decisions about individuals.  This last category includes records that are used to make decisions about any individuals, whether or not the records have been used to make a decision about the particular individual requesting access.

The term “record” means any item, collection, or grouping of information that includes PHI and is maintained, collected, used, or disseminated by or for a covered entity.

The full guidance, along with FAQs, can be accessed here, “Individuals’ Right Under HIPAA.”


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA, FAA Ink Accord on Protecting Airline Workers from Retaliation

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding that allows the agencies to share information regarding the anti-retaliation provision under the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21). The act prohibits air carriers and air carrier contractors and subcontractors from firing or retaliating against airline workers who complain about violations of aviation regulations.

“Airline industry employees have a right to speak out about unsafe workplaces and practices without fear of losing their jobs,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Through this agreement with the FAA, we are reinforcing the message that silencing workers who try to do the right thing is unacceptable for workers and also unsafe for the public.”

OSHA and FAA each play a specialized role in protecting the safety of airline workers. OSHA investigates employee complaints of retaliation by air carriers, contractors and subcontractors and can order a violator to stop the retaliation, reinstate the complainant to his or her former position and pay damages including back pay and attorney fees. FAA is responsible for investigating complaints related to air carrier safety, enforcing air safety regulations and issuing sanctions to airmen and air carriers for violating these regulations.

“This updated agreement between the FAA and OSHA demonstrates our renewed commitment to an important program, which is designed to protect aviation industry employees against retaliation by their employers for reporting safety violations,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Mining Deaths in 2015 Reach Record Low

Preliminary data released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration indicate that 28 miners died in 2015 in work-related accidents at the nation’s mines, down from 45 in 2014. The figure represents the lowest number of mining deaths ever recorded and the first year that mining deaths dropped below 30.

Eleven of the 28 deaths occurred in coal mines — three in Pennsylvania; two each in Kentucky, Illinois and West Virginia; and one each in Alabama and Virginia. The leading causes were powered haulage and machinery accidents, which accounted for six deaths.

Of the 17 deaths in metal and nonmetal mining, Nevada led with four, followed by Missouri with two, and one each in California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The leading cause of death in these mines was machinery accidents, which led to five deaths, followed by falling materials that killed four miners.

“While coal mine closures had some effect on the historic low number of mining deaths, actions by MSHA and the mining industry to improve mine safety have been a major factor,” said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health.

Main credited the agency’s use of strategic enforcement tools, including special impact inspections that quickly address problem mines and the retooled Pattern of Violations procedure that targets mines with chronic violations, along with compliance assistance, training and outreach efforts to the mining industry.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HIPAA Modified to Allow Data to Be Sent to the FBI for Background Checks

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Office for Civil Rights (OCR) today issued a final rule to allow HIPAA-protected mental health data to be shared with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and used to screen gun purchasers.

Under the Gun Control Act of 1968, a provision called the “mental health prohibitor” disqualifies from gun possession those who have been “involuntarily committed to a mental institution; found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity; or otherwise have been determined by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or to lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs as a result of marked subnormal intelligence or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease.”

Under the privacy provision of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), covered entities normally withhold any medical information from the FBI as being protected health information. The rule takes effect 30 days after publication, allowing for pertinent mental health information to be shared.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA to Hold Hearing on Proposed Beryllium Exposure Rule

Responding to a request by the Non-Ferrous Founders’ Society, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will hold what it’s calling an “informal public hearing” on its proposed beryllium exposure rule on Monday, Feb 29.

The public comment period on the August 2015 proposed rule closed this past Nov. 5, but not before the society made its request for a public hearing.

Beryllium, used principally in aerospace and the defense industries, poses a respiratory hazard to those exposed to it, and the rule aims to set safer exposure limits. OSHA estimates the rule, once in effect, will prevent 96 premature deaths each year and also prevent 50 new cases of chronic beryllium disease annually.

The all-day public hearing will be held at the Frances Perkins Building, which houses the Department of Labor (DOL), in Washington, D.C. If necessary, OSHA says it will carry over the meeting to subsequent days.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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OSHA Relying More and More on General Duty Clause

According to watchers of the organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is relying more and more on its General Duty Clause to cite firms for safety violations, causing some observers to cry foul.

The clause has been the fourth-most cited standard for severe injury reports triggered by new reporting requirements effective Jan. 1, 2015, with 175 violations issued in the first nine months of 2015, according to OSHA.

“We use that clause when there is no standard that’s directly applicable, but there’s a clear hazard,” OSHA chief David Michaels explained.

Most conspicuously, OSHA used the General Duty Clause, which calls for businesses to maintain a safe and healthy workplace, to cite Sea World Orlando following the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled into a pool by a killer whale. That citation was later upheld by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.


If you own or operate a small to medium-sized business, managing all your employees plus meeting federal labor laws and regulations can be daunting, especially with new rules being issued all the time. To help you understand your rights and responsibilities in every facet of running a business, please order a copy of Personnel Concepts’ All-On-One HR Compliance Program for Small Businesses.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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The Obama Immigration Plan Legal Saga Continues

President Obama’s executive immigration edicts from November 2014 have been put on hold by a federal district judge and then once again upon review by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and both decisions now rest on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court for final review.

Facing a possible hearing by SCOTUS in April, with a decision possible in June, both sides of the issue — which would grant legal work status to up to 5 million illegal immigrants — are filing briefs with the high court.

Yesterday, Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton weighed in, saying: “The president alone does not have the authority to grant millions of illegal immigrants a host of benefits — like Social Security and Medicare — which should be reserved for lawful citizens.” He asked the court to forego the review.

This follows a brief by U.S. Solicitor-General Donald Verrilli Jr., the president’s attorney, which said rejection of the president’s plan would force millions of people “to continue to work off the books, without the option of lawful employment to provide for their families.”

Paxton’s brief says the program represents the type of “crucial change” in immigration policy that “could be created only by Congress.”

If the Supreme Court allows the executive orders to stand, Obama would have seven months left in office to implement the process under his aegis.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Time to Update Your Labor Law Poster, Especially If…

Especially if you’re in one of the 13 states that will greet the New Year with new minimum wage rates and mandatory workplace notices: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York (which actually takes effect on Dec. 31, 2015), Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.

In addition, both Washington, D.C. and Maryland will increase their minimum wage rates on July 1, to be followed by Minnesota on Aug. 1.

Now, if you’re currently an active subscriber with Personnel Concepts update service, all newly released mandatory posters, whether minimum wage or otherwise, will be both mailed and emailed to you.

If you’re not a current subscriber, click the link below to sign up, or if you just want to update your labor law poster for 2016, the same link will let you do that as well. Either way, as the New Year dawns, it’s a good time to make sure all your mandatory postings are current.

YES,  I WANT TO UPDATE MY LABOR LAW POSTER


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Rules Proposed for Child Care Block Grant Program

New proposed rules to improve child care have been announced by the Administration for Children and Families, an office within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The proposed rules offer additional guidance on program requirements established by the bipartisan Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in November 2014.

The law reauthorizes the Child Care and Development Fund program for the first time in 18 years. It also makes significant changes to increase the success of children served by the program and their families, including increasing health and safety requirements for child care programs and providers, making child care financial assistance more stable for low-income working parents, improving and expanding information parents have about child care options, and raising the quality of child care. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published Dec. 24 proposes additional guidance on specific program requirements.

“Parents deserve to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing their children are in safe care settings with knowledgeable staff,” said Mark Greenberg, HHS acting assistant secretary for children and families. “The new background check and training requirements in the law help give them that peace of mind.”

The public is invited to submit comments on these proposed rules, which are due 60 days after publication.


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Health Care Reporting Deadlines Extended for Employers

The February and March deadlines for employers to report health care information to their employees and to the IRS have been pushed back to March 31, and in some cases to June 30.

The original deadline for reporting to employees was Feb. 1, with a new two-month window until March 31. The Feb. 29 and March 31 deadlines for reporting the same information to the IRS (by paper or electronically, respectively) are extended by three months.

The extensions were announced Monday after pressure from employers who feared they couldn’t meet the deadlines.

Health insurance companies facing similar reporting requirements also got an extension.

“It’s a limited extension to make the system work as smoothly as possible,” said Treasury senior adviser Mark Iwry.

The vast majority of individual taxpayers will not be affected by this extension.  Like last tax filing season, most individuals will simply check a box on their tax return indicating they had health coverage for the entire year. These new forms provide individuals with a record of their health coverage, but they do not need to be attached to the tax return.


For the full story on how the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) affects your business, no matter how large or small, please obtain a copy of our comprehensive yet easy-to-follow Affordable Care Act Compliance Kit.



NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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