The HIPAA Act turns 25 on August 21, 2021. On Wednesday, August 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed HIPAA into law, with bipartisan support from Congress. The signing took place as part of a gala ceremony on the White House lawn, complete with a Marine band and an invited audience. In the past 25 years, the Department of Health and Human Services has issued regulations requiring covered entities and business associates to provide for the privacy and security of electronic protected health information. Sporadic regulations have been proposed, modified, and implemented during that time. Only when HIPAA graduated teenagehood did it begin to really find another purpose – that is, being used as the basis for patient lawsuits against their physicians. The HIPAA Act 25th Anniversary can’t really be properly celebrated without acknowledging this trend, which is discussed below.

HIPAA Act 25th Anniversary: Using HIPAA as a Lawsuit Tool

HIPAA Act 25th Anniversary

The HIPAA Act does not provide a right for individuals to sue. Instead, individuals claiming that a covered entity or business associate violated the Privacy Rule, the Security Rule, or the Breach Notification Rule, must file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). 

OCR then investigates, and, if appropriate, proposes issuing a civil monetary penalty or other sanction (such as a corrective action plan) against an entity that OCR believes violated one or more HIPAA regulations. The penalty money (or, if OCR enters into a settlement agreement, the settlement money) is collected by the government. It does not go into the pockets of complaining individuals. For some individuals, not being able to receive money damages based on a provider’s wrongdoing is a disincentive to filing a complaint. Lawyers in particular have been reluctant to represent individuals alleging a HIPAA violation, without the possibility of a potential payday.

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