The Biden administration will propose new health privacy protections on Wednesday to prevent protected health information from being used to investigate or sue people who facilitate abortions, senior administration officials said.
The changes, proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, would create a «federal floor» for medical privacy, a senior administration official said on a call with reporters who anticipated the proposal.
Vice President Kamala Harris will announce the new language, intended to strengthen existing privacy rule protections under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, when she meets with a task force on access to care for reproductive health on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting follows the latest setback for abortion rights: a federal judge in Texas appointed by former President Donald Trump issued a ruling last week that would suspend FDA approval of the abortion medication mifepristone. The Biden administration filed an application with a federal appeals court on Monday to block the ruling.
The HHS proposal focuses on prohibiting the use or disclosure of protected health information that could be used to identify, investigate, prosecute, or sue individuals, health care providers, and others involved in seeking or providing abortion services.
States like Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas allow lawsuits against people who help facilitate abortions within their borders. Opponents of the laws have raised concerns about how sensitive medical information is disclosed in such situations. Idaho last week became the first state to criminalize out-of-state abortion care.
In a document outlining its proposal, the White House said taking steps to protect sensitive health information had taken on «renewed importance» in light of such efforts.
The proposed rule would continue to allow a regulated entity, such as a health insurance company or provider, to use or disclose protected health information «for purposes permitted» under the privacy rule, a senior administration official said.
But such a request would not be allowed where its primary purpose is to investigate or hold any person liable for seeking or facilitating legal reproductive care.