HHS OIG Audits Uncover Weaknesses in Health Information Security Oversight

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On May 17, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (“HHS”) Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) released two audit reports focused on the federal government’s health information security activities. The first report assessed the sufficiency of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (“CMS”) oversight and enforcement of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Security Rule (the “Security Rule”). The second report evaluated the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology’s (“ONC”) adoption of technology standards to protect the security of health information in health information technology (“health IT”) tools.

OIG released the reports amid a flurry of recent federal information privacy and security activity, including the White House’s release of a draft “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace,” which calls for the creation of an “identity ecosystem” to protect electronic data, including health and financial information. The ecosystem would reduce the need for passwords and logins by providing people with a secure, interoperable digital identity. HHS is also reportedly close to releasing an “omnibus” final regulation amending HIPAA in accordance with the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (the “HITECH Act”).

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