New Federal Rule Could Remove Barriers to Supportive Services

Published on Mar 2, 2021 in Federal Advocacy

A new federal rule change is poised to remove a barrier that has been standing between Californians and the food they need to thrive. The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Civil Rights is proposing to modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The rule, if adopted as proposed, will remove challenges that have been limiting health care providers from coordinating care with organizations who provide supportive services, such as food and sheltered housing to patients, but who operate outside of the traditional health care system. One major step towards reimagining our healthcare system to one more focused on whole person care.

Why the Rule Change is Needed

Health care providers are increasingly looking beyond medical interventions and investing in ways to support the social needs of their patients. Hospitals, health plans, and other organizations are partnering with community based organizations to connect patients to the food and other supports they need for good health. However, we continue to hear from stakeholders across the state that unclear guidance around what type of information can be shared has created barriers to more seamlessly connecting patients to much needed nutrition services. Unfortunately, the same privacy rules that were created to protect patients, have also been impeding them from accessing available supports.

How You Can Help: Comment on the Rule Change Before March 22nd

Let your voice be heard! Social service and community based organizations that have direct experience navigating HIPAA when sharing, or attempting to share, patient information with health care providers are encouraged to comment on the proposed rule change. Submit comments through the Federal Registrar by March 22nd, 2021. To submit, click "Submit a Formal Comment" at the top of the page, you can provide comments directly into the comment box or you can upload a file with your comments. You can use our comments as a guide as you draft your own. If you have any questions about commenting on the rule change, or understanding it, please reach out to Melissa Cannon or Kameron Mims-Jones.

A Teaser For What Else is to Come

Over the last year, Nourish California has been working in partnership with the California Office of Health Information Integrity, the California Primary Care Association, and partners throughout the state to develop a set of materials that will provide authoritative guidance from the state of California on federal and state laws involving the sharing of patient information between health care providers and providers of nutrition and food services. This new version of California’s State Health Information Guidance (SHIG) is coming soon and will be a helpful tool for navigating the confusing patchwork of privacy rules that govern health information sharing in California, including and beyond HIPAA.

Our work on the SHIG has also helped us identify places within California law that may need to be updated. California has some of the most protective state privacy laws in the nation, but similar to HIPAA, these laws may not reflect the more value based health care system we are progressing towards, a system that prioritizes whole health. We plan to monitor the final rule and work in coalition with partners to advocate an update to any California health and information privacy laws that may continue to limit access to the food Californians need.