The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has come into the spotlight of late as an unintended deterrent for everything from sharing patient information with family members to gun laws.

The debate over the law began with a hearing last last month before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, “Does HIPAA Help or Hinder Patient Care and Public Safety?”

The reason behind the hearing were recent studies that indicated that healthcare providers have been “overzealously” invoking HIPAA as the reason behind sharing medical information with family members and law enforcement. As Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights Director Leon Rodriguez told the panel, HIPAA contrains substantial penalties for providers who illegally release patient information, regardless of whether by intention or accident, but there are no penalties for refusing to release information, even if allowed by law.

Fear of violating HIPAA, even inadvertently, is a major obstacle that will prevent healthcare providers from sharing a patient’s mental health condition with law enforcement as recommended by proposed gun laws.

A recent Florida case may give healthcare providers even more reason to be cautious. In  Opis Management Resources, LLC v. Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that HIPAA preempted Florida’s healthcare information privacy laws as it pertained to releasing information relating to a deceased, nursing home patient’s information to anyone other than his “personal representative.”

Although the recent HIPAA Omnibus Package that went into effect March 26 loosened the restrictions to permit access of medical information to family members, some medical professionals, and those seeking payment for care, the Florida law still does not conform to HIPAA and therefore is overruled by the federal statute.

You can download the entire omnibus final rule here (PDF, registration required):  (You must be logged in to download this file. Don't have an account? Register for free and you'll be returned to this page.)

Next Article: Healthcare Digest 5/6: Fee for Service v. ...