: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Health and Human Services reduced its fines for violations of HIPAA — the law requiring health care industries to protect customer data, according to a notice this week in the Federal Register.

Driving the news: The new rules reduce a maximum fine of $1.5 million to a maximum fine of $250,000.

  • HHS claims the changes in fines reflect a better reading of the law.
  • The law is ambiguous and poorly written, supporting both the new and old readings of the law, said Jon Moore, senior vice president and chief risk officer at Clearwater Compliance, a company that helps customers comply with HIPAA.

Details: The changes in fees may fundamentally alter how companies approach compliance fines, said Moore.

  • Investigations into HIPAA fines can take years.
  • "Most organizations who are investigated don’t end up paying penalties. Or they settle and enter a corrective action plan," he said. "But that might change. An organization may say 'I’d rather pay [the lowest-tier fine of] $25,000 than be investigated for years.'"

What to watch: It's hard to say whether the changes will increase or decrease compliance with the law. It's now less costly not to comply. But by decreasing the penalty for complying with the law but still suffering a breach, the changes also make complying more attractive.

Go deeper: Alexa adds new functionalities to comply with HIPAA

Go deeper

FDA chief vows agency will not accept political pressure on coronavirus vaccine

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn promised that "science will guide our decision" for a coronavirus vaccine at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Why it matters: More Americans are expressing doubt about a first-generation vaccine, despite President Trump's efforts to push an unrealistic timeline that conflicts with medical experts in his administration.

CEO confidence rises for the first time in over 2 years

Data: Business Roundtable; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A closely-watched CEO economic confidence index rose for the first time after declining for nine straight quarters, according to a survey of 150 chief executives of the biggest U.S. companies by trade group Business Roundtable.

Why it matters: The index, which still remains at a decade low, reflects corporate America's expectations for sales, hiring and spending — which plummeted amid uncertainty when the pandemic hit.

Official says White House political appointees "commandeered" Bolton book review

John Bolton's book "The Room Where it Happened." Photo: Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images

A former career official at the National Security Council claims her pre-publication review of former national security adviser John Bolton's explosive book on President Trump was "commandeered by political appointees for a seemingly political purpose," according to a letter from her lawyers filed in court on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The White House fought against the publication of Bolton's book for most of the year on the grounds that it contained harmful and "significant amounts of classified information."

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