HHS’ Office of Inspector General Recommends Guidelines for Civil Monetary Penalties for Information Blocking

The HHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommended a rule last Tuesday that make changes to civil monetary penalty guidelines to also cover information blocking.

If implemented, the new CMPs for information blocking will be an essential tool to ensure program integrity and the assured rewards of technology and data.

OIG is aware that while in the COVID-19 public health emergency, healthcare providers are focused on giving treatment and follow-up patient care. OIG is doing its commitments by publishing the new regulation but is additionally seeking to be as flexible as possible to reduce the pressure on healthcare providers on the front line addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. OIG wants to get comments from healthcare providers and industry stakeholders about when information blocking enforcement must begin.

OIG spelled out that all entities and people expected to comply with the new information blocking regulations will be given time to attain compliance before the beginning of enforcement. OIG has recommended that the beginning date for enforcement should be the compliance date of the ONC Final Rule posted on March 9, 2020, however, has suggested a 60-day waiting to enforcement because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposed rule does not add any new requirements regarding information blocking, instead, OIG will be integrating the regulations that the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) publicized in March, and is going to use that rule as the basis for enforcing information blocking CMPs.

OIG stated that civil monetary penalties will be imposed only on entities and persons when there have been deliberate information blocking violations. OIG will not impose civil monetary penalties on entities and people in instances where innocent errors have been made. So as to figure out intention, OIG will work closely with the ONC and the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights. The proposed rule additionally clarifies the basis for being aware of whether there have been single or several violations of information blocking provisions of the ONC rule.

ONC stated that it will prioritize investigations where

  • conduct has or potentially cause harm
  • information blocking has considerably impacted a provider’s capability to give patient care
  • cases concern with information blocking over a long period
  • deliberate information blocking
  • conduct has prompted economic loss to Federal healthcare programs or other government or private organizations

The proposed rule additionally makes modifications in two different areas. There are new authorities for civil monetary penalties, checks, and exclusions associated with HHS grants, contracts and other agreements related to fraudulence, and the highest penalties for specific violations will be increased according to the modifications made by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.

The OIG proposed rule was released in the federal register and is available for viewing on this link.  Feedback on the proposed rule is going to be accepted for 60 days from the publication date in the federal register.

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Christine Garcia is the staff writer on Calculated HIPAA. Christine has several years experience in writing about healthcare sector issues with a focus on the compliance and cybersecurity issues. Christine has developed in-depth knowledge of HIPAA regulations. You can contact Christine at [email protected]. You can follow Christine on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ChrisCalHIPAA