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Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has relaxed certain rules and issued new guidelines to help address the national public health emergency. However, while healthcare providers and other covered entities have worked to implement and adapt to this new regulatory environment, others have worked to exploit them and fraudulently obtain protected health information (PHI).
OCR has confirmed that in the midst of increased telehealth practices in the healthcare communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an individual posing as an OCR investigator has contacted HIPAA-covered entities in an effort to improperly obtain PHI. If an inquiry is legitimate, an OCR investigator will have a case number and will be willing to provide an email address ending in @hhs.gov. The investigator further should agree to provide a confirmation email to the covered entity confirming the nature and legitimacy of the inquiry before any substantive information is exchanged. Moreover, it is our experience that OCR investigators rarely, if ever, call to inquire about PHI unless it is directly tied to a specific complaint or a breach incident that the practice reported to Health and Human Services.
OCR has a dedicated a webpage for more information regarding new developments, announcements, and other matters related to COVID-19’s impact. Click here to visit OCR’s dedicated page now. OCR also invites follow-up questions and concerns via email at OCRMail@hhs.gov.
In addition, the FBI recently issued a public service announcement about other fraud schemes related to COVID-19. The announcement can be found here. As indicated in its public service announcement, the FBI encourages reporting potential Internet scam or cyber-crime complaints here.
Contact Caplan & Earnest With Questions
If you have questions about laws or regulations governing PHI, please contact Meghan Pound or Sheryl Bridges in Caplan & Earnest’s Health Law practice. Our attorneys continue to closely follow these developments, as well as many others related to changing laws, regulations and rules relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.