The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced new restructuring efforts to better address the growing need for enforcement of federal civil rights, privacy, and conscience laws. OCR has reported that its caseload has multiplied in recent years, increasing to over 51,000 complaints in 2022, which is a 69 percent increase between 2017 and 2022.
The increase in caseloads is due in part to the expanding use of technology in healthcare, which has led to increased data breaches and cybersecurity threats. Protecting health information privacy and cybersecurity has become a paramount concern, as data breaches can have significant consequences for patients and healthcare providers alike. In recent years, there have been multiple high-profile data breaches in the healthcare sector, exposing millions of patients’ sensitive health information. Such breaches can lead to identity theft, financial losses, and reputational damage to healthcare providers.
With the increased use of technology and data-driven healthcare, protecting health information privacy and cybersecurity has become critical. With hacking accounting for 80 percent of large breaches reported to the Office for Civil Rights, violations of unguarded protected health information (PHI), including digital PHI, have become more widespread. This highlights the need for OCR to develop robust cybersecurity policies and ensure that healthcare providers are in compliance with privacy and security regulations.
The formation of the new Health Information Privacy, Data, and Cybersecurity Division (HIPDC) is a critical step in addressing these concerns. According to the press release, the HIPDC will continue to meet the growing demands to address health information privacy and cybersecurity concerns, and will be tasked with investigating and resolving complaints related to breaches of PHI. The division will also work closely with the Enforcement Division to ensure that healthcare providers are in compliance with HIPAA and HITECH regulations.
OCR’s work in enforcing civil rights laws is also essential to promoting healthcare equity and ensuring that all individuals have access to the care they need. This work is particularly important in light of ongoing efforts to improve healthcare access and address disparities in health outcomes. In recent years, there have been significant efforts to address disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, particularly for marginalized and underserved populations. OCR’s work in enforcing civil rights laws plays a critical role in ensuring that these efforts are successful, and that all individuals have access to the care they need, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or other protected characteristics.
To address the increased caseloads and expanding demands, OCR will establish the newly formed divisions. The Enforcement Division will investigate complaints and determine appropriate steps for resolution, with Luis Perez leading the division to provide vital integration between OCR’s regional offices and headquarters staff. The Policy Division will develop policy and promulgate regulations to ensure that healthcare providers comply with civil rights, conscience, and privacy laws. Finally, the Strategic Planning Division will be responsible for leading the public outreach efforts surrounding OCR’s authority to uphold civil rights, conscience, and health information privacy rights.
OCR’s formation of the new divisions and restructuring efforts represent a critical step in ensuring that the office can effectively enforce civil rights, conscience, and privacy laws in the modern healthcare landscape. By coordinating policy development, enforcement, and outreach, OCR will be better equipped to meet the needs of patients, healthcare providers, and the broader healthcare system. The new divisions will help to address the growing need for enforcement of federal civil rights, privacy, and conscience laws, and will ensure that healthcare providers comply with these laws. Additionally, OCR’s efforts to address cybersecurity threats and enforce civil rights laws are essential to promoting healthcare equity and ensuring that all individuals have access to the care they need.