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OCR Releases Guidance on Direct Liability for Business Associates Under HIPAA

Posted in HIPAA and the HITECH Act, Privacy and Data Protection

On May 24 the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published a fact sheet on direct liability of business associates under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). In the guidance,  OCR reiterated that it has the authority to take enforcement actions against business associates for the following requirements and prohibitions of the HIPAA rules:

  1. Failure to provide the Secretary with records and compliance reports; cooperate with complaint investigations and compliance reviews; and permit access by the Secretary to information, including protected health information (PHI), pertinent to determining compliance.
  2. Taking any retaliatory action against any individual or other person for filing a HIPAA complaint, participating in an investigation or other enforcement process, or opposing an act or practice that is unlawful under HIPAA.
  3. Failure to comply with the requirements of the Security Rule.
  4. Failure to provide breach notification to a covered entity or another business associate.
  5. Impermissible uses and disclosures of PHI.
  6. Failure to disclose a copy of electronic PHI to either the covered entity, the individual, or the individual’s designee (whichever is specified in the business associate agreement) to satisfy a covered entity’s obligations regarding the form and format, and the time and manner of access under 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.524(c)(2)(ii) and 3(ii), respectively.
  7. Failure to make reasonable efforts to limit PHI to the minimum necessary to accomplish the intended purpose of the use, disclosure, or request.
  8. Failure, in certain circumstances, to provide an accounting of disclosures.
  9. Failure to enter into business associate agreements with subcontractors that create or receive PHI on their behalf, and failure to comply with the implementation specifications for such agreements.
  10. Failure to take reasonable steps to address a material breach or violation of the subcontractor’s business associate agreement.

While it is not clear if this guidance signals  increased scrutiny by OCR against business associates, business associates should take appropriate steps to address their own direct liability risks.

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