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HIPAA and the Government Shutdown

At the heart of the federal budget stalemate in Washington is the effort to pull the plug on Obamacare. The resulting partial government shutdown is derailing other important healthcare efforts that not only impact patients' data security and privacy, but also, in some cases, their well-being.

Among the 42,000-plus furloughed at the Department of Health and Human Services are essentially the entire staffs of the Office for Civil Rights, which enforces HIPAA, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, which develops guidelines for the HITECH Act's electronic health record incentive program.

A message on OCR's HIPAA complaint portal acknowledges that HHS won't be looking into any new privacy violations during the shutdown.

"Due to the absence of either a fiscal 2014 appropriation or continuing resolution for HHS, this site will not be accepting new submissions. When either a fiscal year 2014 appropriation or continuing resolution for HHS is passed, this site will again accept submissions. Thank you for your patience."

Also out of action are OCR breach investigations, planning for the 2014 HIPAA compliance audit program, and enforcement of the HIPAA Omnibus Rule.

Meanwhile, the virtual shutdown of the ONC means getting answers to many technical questions about Stage 2 of the HITECH Act EHR incentive program, which launched Oct. 1, program is impossible.

An ONC website lists certified EHRs that qualify for the HITECH Act incentive program by meeting specific criteria, including privacy and security features. But the list now only reflects EHR products that were certified as of Sept. 27 as meeting Stage 2 requirements.

ONC notes on its website that while independent authorized testing labs and certification bodies will continue to test and certify EHR technology during the partial government shutdown, newly certified products will not be listed on ONC's database "until the end of a government shutdown owing to the requirements of ONC review and validation procedures."

The website also notes that, "ONC staff and contractors will not be available for technical support, assistance or programming during a government shutdown."

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