Apr 22, 2024 - Health

Biden moves to block abortion records from investigators

A picture of HHS headquarters in D.C.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration on Monday updated federal health privacy rules to protect patients seeking abortion and providers involved in the procedure.

Why it matters: New final rules enforcing HIPAA take aim against the threat of civil and criminal investigations into patients and providers in states with strict abortion bans.

The big picture: Health plans and providers will be barred from disclosing to state officials protected health information regarding a patient's reproductive care. The changes apply to patients traveling out of state to obtain a legal abortion and those in abortion ban states who qualify for an exemption.

  • It's the Biden administration's latest move to minimize the impact of the Supreme Court's 2022 Dobbs decision.
  • "No one should have to live in fear that their conversations with their doctor or that their medical claims data might be used to target or track them for seeking lawful reproductive health care," said Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights.
  • Attorneys general from 19 states opposed the rule after it was proposed last year, arguing it would unconstitutionally undercut state authority to enforce their laws by deferring to providers and insurers to determine whether an abortion is lawful.

Yes, but: The rule won't provide protection for patients who seek care, including obtaining abortion pills, within states where abortion has been banned if they don't meet the exceptions of their state law.

  • "We have no illusion that everything that the president has urged us to do with our authorities is going to undo Dobbs," said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. "Dobbs had consequences."

What we're watching: HHS is prepared for lawsuits challenging the rule. "It's par for the course," Becerra said.

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