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  • Ryan Wittler

Alright, Once and For F**king All: Here’s What HIPAA Is


C-SPAN

Ah, HIPAA, the oft-cited law (and incorrectly used phrase) that every person who suddenly cares about bodily autonomy can’t get enough of. If you’re sick of hearing about it and would like some ammo for your next conversation with a genius using it to decry government control, keep reading. What actually is HIPAA? HIPAA is short for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, and it’s meant “to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.” The law only applies to three “covered entities” and their “business associates” (i.e., certain contractors they work with). The three covered entities are: Health Care Providers (e.g., doctors, hospitals, etc.); Health Plans (e.g., insurance companies, HMOs, etc.); and Health Care Clearinghouses (businesses that help transmit health information between entities). Do questions about COVID and/or vaccines violate it? No. Why? Well, to start, some would argue a direct question about someone’s health history can never violate HIPAA, because, by answering, the person may also be giving their consent and knowledge at the same time. We’ll leave that argument aside, however, and go for the quick win by pointing out the even more obvious. Namely, the fact that most people and entities asking about the COVID history or vaccination status of others (e.g., journalists, businesses, schools, etc.) are not “covered entities.” And that, folks, pretty much ends it, because the law simply does not apply to anyone but health care providers, health plans, health clearinghouses, and certain people and entities they work with. That’s it. Full stop. That’s the list. So, no, it’s not a violation of HIPAA for an employer or a journalist to ask about someone’s vaccination status. Yes, “that’s HIPAA” is and always will be an incorrect response -- and phrase, grammatically -- to a question about whether someone has had COVID. No, a regular person cannot go to jail for asking about any of that stuff, and, yes, it’s fair game for you to mock any person who says we’re wrong about any of this.

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