Reproductive Health Privacy

On April 26, 2024, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) published a final rule that modifies the Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information (“Privacy Rule”) under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) regarding protected health information (“PHI”) concerning reproductive health. We previously covered the proposed rule (hereinafter, “the NPRM”), which was published on April 17, 2023. The final rule aligns closely with the NPRM.

OCR noted that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (holding that there is no constitutional right to abortion) created a legal landscape that “increase[s] the potential that use and disclosure of PHI about an individual’s reproductive health will undermine access to and the quality of health care generally.” According to OCR, the final rule aims to “continue to protect privacy in a manner that promotes trust between individuals and health care providers and advances access to, and improves the quality of, health care” by “limit[ing] the circumstances in which provisions of the Privacy Rule permit the use or disclosure of an individual’s PHI about reproductive health care for certain non-health care purposes.”

The final rule prohibits a regulated entity from using or disclosing an individual’s PHI:

  • to conduct a criminal, civil, or administrative investigation into or impose criminal, civil, or administrative liability on any person for the mere act of seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive health care that is lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided; and
  • to identify an individual, health care provider, or other person to initiate an investigation or proceeding against that person in connection with seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive health care that is lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided.

“Lawful under the circumstances in which it is provided” means that the reproductive health care is either:

  • lawful under the circumstances in which the health care is provided and in the state in which it is provided; or
  • protected, required, or authorized by Federal law, including the United States Constitution, regardless of the state in which such health care is provided.

Continue Reading HHS Modifies Privacy Rule to Support Reproductive Health Care Privacy