Doctors across the country are encountering a minefield of legal risks as they navigate a post-Roe reality. In this Axios article, McDermott Partner Scott Weinstein offers perspective on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and health information disclosure.
The US Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has raised many questions about potential efforts by law enforcement agencies to obtain data from healthcare and other service providers to detect the performance of a possibly unlawful abortion. For example, data collected by period-tracking apps, patients’ self-reported symptoms, or diagnostic-testing results might be used to establish the timeframe in which an individual became pregnant, and then demonstrate that a pregnancy was terminated, as part of investigative or enforcement efforts against individuals or organizations allegedly involved in such termination.
On June 29, 2022, the office within the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that is responsible for enforcing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), issued guidance addressing how HIPAA limits disclosures by covered entities and business associates to law enforcement agencies in the absence of a court order or other legal mandate. The guidance provides helpful insight on how OCR may use HIPAA enforcement to discourage unauthorized disclosures of protected health information (PHI) to law enforcement officials in the wake of new state laws outlawing abortion. The guidance also implicitly confirms, however, that HIPAA does not provide a complete shield against law enforcement and litigation-driven requests for abortion-related information.
A group of conservative Texas lawmakers is warning employers of potential civil or criminal consequences if they offer out-of-state abortion access to their employees. In this Bloomberg Law article, McDermott Partner Scott Weinstein said many companies offering reproductive healthcare benefits are making sure such benefits aren’t tied to a particular procedure.
“The goal is not to know,” Weinstein said.
The continuation of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and consumer demand for digitally delivered healthcare not only necessitated the shift from in-person to virtual care, but also continued to drive interest, adoption, investment and transactions in digital health in 2021. Digital health funding in 2021 far surpassed 2020’s totals, with no signs of slowing down in 2022, and the potential permanence of some regulatory flexibilities beyond the PHE are charting a course for continued digital health growth in 2022 and beyond.
US employers have grown increasingly interested in identifying incentives that increase COVID-19 vaccination among employees. The US Departments of Labor, Treasury and Human and Human Services recently issued guidance regarding the application of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) wellness rules to vaccine-related premium surcharges and discounts, clarifying that employers may charge vaccine premium incentives if they adhere to the requirements of activity-only health-contingent programs. In this Employee Benefit Plan Review article, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall and McDermott Associate Sarah G. Raaii outline what this HIPPA guidance means for employers.
On October 4, 2021, the US Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services issued guidance regarding the application of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) wellness rules to vaccine-related premium surcharges and discounts, clarifying that employers may charge vaccine premium incentives if they adhere to the requirements of activity-only health-contingent programs.
Employers have grown more interested in exploring incentives designed to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among employees. Some employers have announced plans to charge unvaccinated employees higher contributions for health coverage than vaccinated employees, while some have been considering other options, such as excluding coverage for COVID-related illnesses, charging higher cost-sharing for COVID-19-related illnesses and offering more generous plan options to employees who are vaccinated.
Many plan administrators expressed bewilderment at the Biden administration’s recent guidance to limit vaccine incentive or surcharge programs for unvaccinated plan participants. According to this SHRM article, which features insight from McDermott Partner Judith Wethall, any premium surcharges must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s (HIPPA) nondiscrimination rules. HIPPA nondiscrimination rules allow for participatory and health-contingent permissible wellness programs.
On September 15, 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted 3–2 along party lines (with Republican commissioners dissenting) to issue a policy statement announcing an expansive interpretation of the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule, 16 CFR Part 318 (the Rule). According to the policy statement, the Rule applies to health apps and connected devices that are not subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but are capable of drawing information from multiple sources—for example, through a combination of consumer inputs and application programming interfaces (APIs).
Companies curious about a major airline’s unvaccinated healthcare premium surcharge are discovering that it may be too complex to copy. The airline recently announced that unvaccinated employees enrolled in the company’s health plan would see a $200 monthly surcharge. In this Bloomberg Law article, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall said the compliance hurdles are “tricky and kind of dilute the message.”
Can employers mandate some employees get the vaccine and not others? Is there an obligation to consider requiring a COVID-19 test before coming back to work? What are the potential workers’ compensation claims relating to possible adverse reactions to a vaccine? Should employers mandate vaccinations?