Feds likely to intensify HIPAA compliance crackdowns, experts warn

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act audits may soon shift from focusing on provider education to enforcement, some experts shared this week.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights stated that Phase 2 of the HIPAA audit program, which launched last March, was focused on enhancing “awareness of compliance obligations” among providers and their business associations. That focus may shift if the agency discovers vulnerabilities among providers, Alisa Chestler, an attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, told Bloomberg BNA.

“It's my understanding that, dependent on what they find, they'll be taking enforcement actions on these audits,” Chestler said.

Providers should dedicate time to self-auditing, added Colin Zick, an attorney for Foley Hoag LLP, since “these problems must be found and corrected before the government finds them.”

Healthcare experts speculated shortly after the November election that President Donald Trump may slash funds for HIPAA audits as part of a focus to cut funding for “subtle” programs, in order to boost funding for more expensive goals such as tax cuts.

Susan Nash, attorney with McDermott Will & Emery, said that while the new administration's goal for the audits is still unclear, they may still continue with government support.

“At this early point in the Trump administration, it's unclear how much effort [HHS] Secretary [Tom] Price will put into HIPAA audits, but given the large financial settlements, this will likely be an area of continued focus and attention,” Nash told Bloomberg.