As concerns about COVID-19 heighten, health plans are in the middle of efforts to reduce the spread. In addition to covering diagnostic testing and treatment of COVID-19, health plans may also have valuable information about which individuals have the disease and when they fell ill, allowing researchers to more accurately track and contain the disease. However, health plans may have concerns disclosing this information, as HIPAA’s basic privacy requirements still apply even during a public health emergency.
While HIPAA generally prohibits health plans from disclosing a participant’s diagnosis, HIPAA does contain a relevant exception. Under the law, a health plan may disclose protected health information if notifying a public health authority, such as the Center for Disease Control or a state or local public health department, in order to prevent or control the spread of disease. Even with this exception, however, health plans should be aware that they must limit the information disclosed to that which is the minimum necessary to accomplish the purpose for the disclosure.