United States Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Michael Bennet have written to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Secretary, Xavier Becerra, (HHS) requesting an update of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to improve reproductive rights protection. The letter comes as major concerns have been raised regarding data and privacy concerns following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Last week, the Supreme Court upended almost 50 years of legal precedent in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The decision has created profound uncertainty for patients concerning their right to privacy when making the deeply personal decision to have an abortion.”
In the letter, the Senators wrote how they were grateful for guidelines the OCR have provided, which described how HIPAA protects medical information related to abortion treatment and the degree to which that information is secured on individual mobile phones and tablets, was appreciated by the senators. However, the Senators argued that HHS might clarify the scope and restrictions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule even more. “The Privacy Rule is meant to “define and limit the circumstances in which an individual’s protected health information may be used or disclosed by covered entities,” stated the Senators. “We urge HHS to immediately begin the process to update the Privacy Rule, following all requirements under the Administrative Procedure Act, to clarify who is a covered entity and to limit when that entity can share information on abortion or other reproductive health services.
The Sentors requested HHS to revise HIPAA to clarify that reproductive health data cannot be shared with law enforcement authorities that are pursuing people for abortions and that Pregnancy Care Centers must likewise abide by the HIPAA Privacy Rule. “The decision to start or expand a family is intensely personal and private”, they argued. “When patients speak with their providers about options for contraceptives, the progression of their pregnancy, or their choices to terminate a pregnancy, they expect those conversations to remain confidential. The individual liberty to make those decisions, and the conversations surrounding them, must be protected.”