Industries & Practices

Health Care Industry


    HIPAA Regulations: Process for Requesting Exception Determinations - § 160.204

    As Contained in the HHS HIPAA Rules


    HHS Regulations
    Preemption of State Law: Process for Requesting Exception Determinations - § 160.204


    (a) A request to except a provision of State law from preemption under §160.203(a) may be submitted to the Secretary. A request by a State must be submitted through its chief elected official, or his or her designee. The request must be in writing and include the following information:

    (1) The State law for which the exception is requested;

    (2) The particular standard, requirement, or implementation specification for which the exception is requested;

    (3) The part of the standard or other provision that will not be implemented based on the exception or the additional data to be collected based on the exception, as appropriate;

    (4) How health care providers, health plans, and other entities would be affected by the exception;

    (5) The reasons why the State law should not be preempted by the federal standard, requirement, or implementation specification, including how the State law meets one or more of the criteria at §160.203(a); and

    (6) Any other information the Secretary may request in order to make the determination.

    (b) Requests for exception under this section must be submitted to the Secretary at an address that will be published in the Federal Register. Until the Secretary's determination is made, the standard, requirement, or implementation specification under this subchapter remains in effect.

    (c) The Secretary's determination under this section will be made on the basis of the extent to which the information provided and other factors demonstrate that one or more of the criteria at §160.203(a) has been met.


    HHS Response to Comments Received
    Preemption of State Law: Process for Requesting Exception Determinations


    Comment: Several comments received in the Transactions rulemaking stated that the process for applying for and granting exception determinations (referred to as “waivers” by some) needed to be spelled out in the final rule.

    Response: We agree with these comments. As noted above, since no process was proposed in the Transactions rulemaking, a process for making exception determinations was not adopted in those final rules. Subpart B below adopts a process for making exception determinations, which responds to these comments.

    Comment: Comments stated that the exception process would be burdensome, unwieldy, and time-consuming for state agencies as well as the Department. One comment took the position that states should not be required to submit exception requests to the Department under proposed Sec. 160.203(a), but could provide documentation that the state law meets one of the conditions articulated in proposed Sec. 160.203.

    Response: We disagree that the process adopted at Sec. 164.204 below will be burdensome, unwieldy, or time-consuming. The only thing the regulation describes is the showings that a requestor must make as part of its submission, and all are relevant to the issue to be determined by the Secretary. How much information is submitted is, generally speaking, in the requestor's control, and the regulation places no restrictions on how the requestor obtains it, whether by acting directly, by working with providers and/or plans, or by working with others. With respect to the suggestion that states not be required to submit exception requests, we disagree that this suggestion is either statutorily authorized or advisable. We read this comment as implicitly suggesting that the Secretary must proactively identify instances of conflict and evaluate them. This suggestion is, thus, at bottom the same as the many suggestions that we create a database or compendium of controlling law, and it is rejected for the same reasons.

    Comment: Several comments urged that all state requests for non- preemption include a process for public participation. These comments believe that members of the public and other interested stakeholders should be allowed to submit comments on a state's request for exception, and that these comments should be reviewed and considered by the Secretary in determining whether the exception should be granted. One comment suggested that the Secretary at least give notice to the citizens of the state prior to granting an exception.

    Response: The revision to Sec. 160.204(a), to permit requests for exception determinations by any person, responds to these comments.

    Comment: Many commenters noted that the lack of a clear and reasonable time line for the Secretary to issue an exception determination would not provide sufficient assurance that the questions regarding what rules apply will be resolved in a time frame that will allow business to be conducted properly, and argued that this would increase confusion and uncertainty about which statutes and regulations should be followed. Timeframes of 60 or 90 days were suggested. One group suggested that, if a state does not receive a response from HHS within 60 days, the waiver should be deemed approved.

    Response: The workload prioritization and management considerations discussed above with respect to advisory opinions are also relevant here and make us reluctant to agree to a deadline for making exception determinations. This is particularly true at the outset, since we have no experience with such requests. We therefore have no basis for determining how long processing such requests will take, how many requests we will need to process, or what resources will be available for such processing. We agree that states and other requesters should receive timely responses and will make every effort to make determinations as expeditiously as possible, but we cannot commit to firm deadlines in this initial rule. Once we have experience in handling exception requests, we will consult with states and others in regard to their experiences and concerns and their suggestions for improving the Secretary's expeditious handling of such requests.

    We are not accepting the suggestion that requests for exception be deemed approved if not acted upon in some defined time period. Section 1178(a)(2)(A) requires a specific determination by the Secretary. The suggested policy would not be consistent with this statutory requirement. It is also inadvisable from a policy standpoint, in that it would tend to maximize exceptions. This would be contrary to the underlying statutory policy in favor of uniform federal standards.

    Comment: One commenter took exception to the requirement for states to seek a determination from the Department that a provision of state law is necessary to prevent fraud and abuse or to ensure appropriate state regulation of insurance plans, contending that this mandate could interfere with the Insurance Commissioners' ability to do their jobs. Another commenter suggested that the regulation specifically recognize the broad scope of state insurance department activities, such as market conduct examinations, enforcement investigations, and consumer complaint handling.

    Response: The first comment raises an issue that lies outside our legal authority to address, as section 1178(a)(2)(A) clearly mandates that the Secretary make a determination in these areas. With respect to the second comment, to the extent these concerns pertain to health plans, we believe that the provisions at Sec. 164.512 relating to oversight and disclosures required by law should address the concerns underlying this comment.