Industries & Practices

Health Care Industry


    HIPAA Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information: Applicability § 164.302

    As Contained in the HHS HIPAA Security Rules


    HHS Regulations as Amended January 2013
    Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic PHI: Applicability - § 164.302


    A covered entity or business associate must comply with the applicable standards, implementation specifications, and requirements of this subpart with respect to electronic protected health information of a covered entity.


    HHS Description and Commentary From the January 2013 Amendments
    Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic PHI: Applicability - § 164.302


    Proposed Rule

    Before the HITECH Act, the Security Rule did not directly apply to business associates of covered entities. However, section 13401 of the HITECH Act provides that the Security Rule’s administrative, physical, and technical safeguards requirements in §§ 164.308, 164.310, and 164.312, as well as the Rule’s policies and procedures and documentation requirements in § 164.316, apply to business associates in the same manner as these requirements apply to covered entities, and that business associates are civilly and criminally liable for violations of these provisions.

    To implement section 13401 of the HITECH Act, we proposed to insert references in Subpart C to “business associate” following references to “covered entity,” as appropriate, to make clear that these provisions of the Security Rule also apply to business associates. In addition, we proposed additional changes to §§ 164.306, 164.308, 164.312, 164.314, and 164.316 of the Security Rule, as discussed below.

    Overview of Public Comments

    Some commenters argued that the time, implementation expense, transaction cost, and liability cost burdens on business associates and subcontractors to comply with the Security Rule, especially small and mid-size entities, would be significant. Other commenters supported the direct application of the Security Rule to business associates and subcontractors.

    Final Rule

    We adopt the modifications to the Security Rule as proposed to implement the HITECH Act’s provisions extending direct liability for compliance with the Security Rule to business associates. In response to the concerns raised regarding the costs of compliance, we note that the Security Rule currently requires a covered entity to establish a business associate agreement that requires business associates to implement administrative, physical, and technical safeguards that reasonably and appropriately protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information that they create, receive, maintain, or transmit on behalf of the covered entity as required by the Security Rule; and to ensure that any agent, including a subcontractor, to whom they provide such information agrees to implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to protect it. See § 164.314(a). Consequently, business associates and subcontractors should already have in place security practices that either comply with the Security Rule, or that require only modest improvements to come into compliance with

    Moreover, the requirements of the Security Rule were designed to be technology neutral and scalable to all different sizes of covered entities and business associates. Covered entities and business associates have the flexibility to choose security measures appropriate for their size, resources, and the nature of the security risks they face, enabling them to reasonably implement any given Security Rule standard. In deciding which security measures to use, a covered entity or business associate should take into account its size, capabilities, the costs of the specific security measures, and the operational impact. Thus, the costs of implementing the Security Rule for large, midsized, or small business associates will be proportional to their size and resources.

    Notwithstanding the above, based on the comments, we acknowledge that some business associates, particularly the smaller or less sophisticated business associates that may have access to electronic protected health information for limited purposes, may not have engaged in the formal administrative safeguards such as having performed a risk analysis, established a risk management program, or designated a security official, and may not have written policies and procedures, conducted employee training, or documented compliance as the statute and these regulations would now require. For these business associates, we include an estimate for compliance costs below in the regulatory impact analysis. We also refer these business associates to our educational papers and other guidance on compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule found at: These materials provide guidance on conducting risk analyses and implementing the other administrative safeguards required by the Security Rule, which may prove helpful to these business associates and facilitate their compliance efforts.


    HHS Description From the Original Security Rules
    Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic PHI: Applicability


    We proposed that the security standards would apply to health plans, health care clearinghouses, and to health care providers that maintain or transmit health information electronically. The proposed security standards would apply to all electronic health information maintained or transmitted, regardless of format (standard transaction or a proprietary format). No distinction would be made between internal corporate entity communication or communication external to the corporate entity. Electronic transmissions would include transactions using all media, even when the information is physically moved from one location to another using magnetic tape, disk, or other machine readable media. Transmissions over the Internet (wide-open), extranet (using Internet technology to link a business with information only accessible to collaborating parties), leased lines, dial-up lines, and private networks would be included. We proposed that telephone voice response and "faxback" systems (a request for information made via voice using a fax machine and requested information returned via that same machine as a fax) would not be included but we solicited comments on this proposed exclusion. This final rule simplifies the applicability statement greatly. Section 164.302 provides that the security standards apply to covered entities; the scope of the information covered is specified in § 164.306 (see the discussion under that section below regarding the changes and revisions to the scope of information covered).


    HHS Response to Comments Received From the Original Security Rules
    Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic PHI: Applicability


    Comment: A number of commenters requested clarification of who must comply with the standards. The preamble and proposed § 142.102 and § 142.302 stated: "Each person described in section 1172(a) of the Act who maintains or transmits health information shall maintain reasonable and appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards." Commenters suggested that this statement is in conflict with the law, which defines a covered entity as a health plan, a clearinghouse, or a health care provider that conducts certain transactions electronically. The commenters apparently did not realize that section 1172(a) of the Act contains the definition of covered entities.

    Response: Section 164.302 below makes the security standards applicable to "covered entities." The term "covered entity" is defined at § 160.103 as one of the following: (1) a health plan; (2) a health care clearinghouse; (3) a health care provider who transmits any health information in electronic form in connection with a transaction covered by part 162 of title 45 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The rationale for the use and the meaning of the term "covered entity" is discussed in the preamble to the Privacy Rule (65 FR 82476 through 82477). As that discussion makes clear, the standards only apply to health care providers who engage electronically in the transactions for which standards have been adopted.

    Comment: Several commenters recommended expansion of applicability, either to other specific entities, or to all entities involved in health care. Others wanted to know whether the standards apply to entities such as employers, public health organizations, medical schools, universities, research organizations, plan brokers, or non-EDI providers. One commenter asked whether the standards apply to State data organizations operating in capacities other than as plans, clearinghouses, or providers. Still other commenters stated that it was inappropriate to include physicians and other health care professionals in the same category as plans and clearinghouses, arguing that providers should be subject to different, less burdensome requirements because they already protect health information.

    Response: The statute does not cover all health care entities that transmit or maintain individually identifiable health information. Section 1172(a) of the Act provides that only health plans, health care clearinghouses, and certain health care providers (as discussed above) are covered. With respect to the comments regarding the difference between providers and plans/clearinghouses, we have structured the Security Rule to be scalable and flexible enough to allow different entities to implement the standards in a manner that is appropriate for their circumstances. Regarding the coverage of entities not within the jurisdiction of HIPAA, see the Privacy Rule at 82567 through 82571.

    Comment: One commenter asked whether the standards would apply to research organizations, both to those affiliated with health care providers and those that are not.

    Response: Only health plans, health care clearinghouses, and certain health care providers are required to comply with the security standards. Researchers who are members of a covered entity's work force may be covered by the security standards as part of the covered entity. See the definition of "workforce" at 45 CFR 160.103. Note, however, that a covered entity could, under appropriate circumstances, exclude a researcher or research division from its health care component or components (see § 164.105(a)). Researchers who are not part of the covered entity's workforce and are not themselves covered entities are not subject to the standards.

    Comment: Several commenters stated that internal networks and external networks should be treated differently. One commenter asked for further clarification of the difference between what needs to be secured external to a corporation versus the security of data movement within an organization. Another stated that complying with the security standards for internal communications may prove difficult and costly to monitor and control. In contrast, one commenter stated that the existence of requirements should not depend on whether use of information is for internal or external purposes. Another commenter argued that the regulation goes beyond the intent of the law, and while communication of electronic information between entities should be covered, the law was never intended to mandate changes to an entity's internal automated systems. One commenter requested that raw data that are only for the internal use of a facility be excluded, provided that reasonable safeguards are in place to keep the raw data under the control of the facility.

    Response: Section 1173(d)(2) of the Act states:

    Each person described in section 1172(a) who maintains or transmits health information shall maintain reasonable and appropriate administrative, technical, and physical safeguards--

    1. to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of the information;

    2. to protect against any reasonably anticipated--

         (a) threats or hazards to the security or integrity of the information; and

         (b) unauthorized uses or disclosures of the information; and

    3. otherwise to ensure compliance with this part by the officers and employees of such person.

    This language draws no distinction between internal and external data movement. Therefore, this final rule covers electronic protected health information at rest (that is, in storage) as well as during transmission. Appropriate protections must be applied, regardless of whether the data are at rest or being transmitted. However, because each entity's security needs are unique, the specific protections determined appropriate to adequately protect information will vary and will be determined by each entity in complying with the standards (see the discussion below).

    Comment: Several commenters found the following statement in the proposed rule (63 FR 43245) at section II.A. confusing and asked for clarification: "With the exception of the security standard, transmission within a corporate entity would not be required to comply with the standards."

    Response: In the final Transactions Rule, we revised our approach concerning the transaction and code set exemptions, replacing this concept with other tests that determine whether a particular transaction is subject to those standards (see the discussion in the Transactions Rule at 65 FR 50316 through 50318). We also note that the Privacy Rule regulates a covered entity's use, as well as disclosure, of protected health information.

    Comment: One commenter stated that research would be hampered if proposed § 142.306(a) applied. The commenter believes that research uses of health information should be excluded or the standard should be revised to allow appropriate flexibility for research depending on the risk to patients or subjects (for example, if the information is anonymous, there is no risk, and it would not be necessary to meet the security standards).

    Response: If electronic protected health information is de-identified (as truly anonymous information would be), it is not covered by this rule because it is no longer electronic protected health information (see 45 CFR 164.502(d) and 164.514(a)). Electronic protected health information received, created, or maintained by a covered entity, or that is transmitted by covered entities, is covered by the security standards and must be protected. To the extent a researcher is a covered entity, the researcher must comply with these standards with respect to electronic protected health information. Otherwise, the conditions for release of such information to researchers is governed by the Privacy Rule. See, for example, 45 CFR 164.512(i), 164.514(e) and 164.502(d). These standards would not apply to the researchers as such in the latter circumstances.

    Comment: One commenter asked to what extent individual patients are subject to the standards. For example, some telemedicine practices support the use of diagnostic systems in the patient's home, which can be used to conduct tests and send results to a remote physician. In other cases, patients may be responsible for the filing of insurance claims directly and will need the ability to verify facts, confirm receipt of claims, and so on. The commenter asked if it is the intent of the rule to include electronic transmission to or from the patient.

    Response: Patients are not covered entities and, thus, are not subject to these standards. With respect to transmissions from covered entities, covered entities must protect electronic protected health information when they transmit that information. See also the discussion of encryption in section III.G.