Legal, Health IT, Hospitals

HHS issues HIPAA, CMS regulatory waivers to Texas hospitals

As Texas reels from a devasting winter storm, HHS is issuing several waivers to help hospitals continue to provide care amid mounting challenges. These waivers allow non-compliance with certain HIPAA provisions and other federal regulations.

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued several waivers for Texas hospitals reeling from the devastating winter storm that has gripped the state. These waivers provide flexibility in complying with HIPAA rules and other federal regulations.

Texans are experiencing a harrowing February. Record-low temperatures sent life in Texas into a tail-spin this month, with residents facing major transportation issues, lack of access to clean water and power outages that left millions without heat. About 26 people have died since Feb. 11, according to CNN.

“As communities across Texas are facing the aftermath of severe winter weather that is unusual for the area, we are ready to provide critical support,” said HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran in a news release.

Cochran declared a public health emergency for the state on Feb. 17, which allows federal agencies to give healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility amid the winter storm. The declaration, and associated waivers, are retroactive to Feb. 11.

Hospitals in Texas have faced a series of mounting challenges during the storm, from water disruptions and electrical outages to staffing shortages and overwhelming demand in emergency rooms, according to the Texas Tribune. Health facilities that spoke with the publication reported drawing water from wellness pools and waiting days for delayed medication shipments.

To help hospitals provide care amid these challenges, HHS is waiving sanctions and penalties for non-compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

Specifically, the department is waiving compliance with four HIPAA provisions, including one that requires health facilities to obtain patient consent before speaking with family members or friends involved in the patient’s care and another that gives patients the right to request privacy restrictions.

But the waivers only apply:

  • In the emergency area and for the period identified in the public health emergency declaration
  • To hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol
  • For up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol

Further, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has issued certain waivers for Texas healthcare providers. These are in addition to the waivers already available for providers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Through March 4, CMS will not impose civil monetary penalties on Texas nursing homes that do not report Covid-19 cases to the National Healthcare Safety Network.

In addition, the agency is waiving a statutory requirement linked to coverage for skilled nursing facility stays. CMS will provide temporary emergency coverage of skilled nursing facility services without a qualifying three-day inpatient hospital stay for those people who experience dislocations or are otherwise affected by the public health emergency in Texas.

The crisis in Texas is ongoing, with more than 15,700 people still without power and 8.7 million people experiencing water disruptions Monday morning, CNN reported. The state could take weeks or months to recover completely from the debilitating storm.

Photo: putilich, Getty Images