Regulatory Impact Analysis

A. Overall Impact

We have examined the impacts of this rule as required by Executive Order 12866 (September 1993, Regulatory Planning and Review), the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) (September 16, 1980, Pub. L. 96-354), section 1102(b) of the Social Security Act, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-4), and Executive Order 13132.

Executive Order 12866 (as amended by Executive Order 13258, which merely reassigns responsibility of duties) directs agencies to assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). A regulatory impact analysis (RIA) must be prepared for major rules with economically significant effects ($100 million or more in any 1 year). Although we cannot determine the specific economic impact of the standards in this final rule (and individually each standard may not have a significant impact), the overall impact analysis makes clear that, collectively, all the standards will have a significant impact of over $100 million on the economy. Because this rule affects over 2 million entities, a requirement as low as $50 per entity would render this rule economically significant. This rule requires each of these entities to engage in, for example, at least some risk assessment activity; thus, this rule is almost certainly economically significant even though we do not have an estimate of the marginal impact of the additional security standards. However, the standards adopted in this rule are considerably more flexible than those anticipated in the overall impact analysis. Therefore, their implementation costs should be lower than those assumed in the impact analysis.

The RFA requires agencies to analyze options for regulatory relief of small businesses. For purposes of the RFA, small entities include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Most hospitals and most other providers and suppliers are small entities, either by nonprofit status or by having revenues of $6 million to $29 million in any 1 year. While each standard may not have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities, the combined effects of all the standards are likely to have a significant effect on a substantial number of small entities. Although we have certified this rule as having a significant impact, we have previously discussed the impact of small entities in the RFA published as part of the August 17, 2000 final regulation for the Standards for Electronic Transactions (65 FR 50312), on pages 50359 through 50360. That analysis included the impact of the set of HIPAA standards regulations (transactions and code sets, identifiers, and security). Although we discussed the impact on small entities in the previous analysis, we would like to discuss how this final rule has been structured to minimize the impact on small entities, compared to the proposed rule.

The proposed rule mandated 69 implementation features for all entities. A large number of commenters indicated that mandating such a large number would be burdensome for all entities. As a result, we have restructured this final rule to permit greater flexibility. While all standards must be met, we are now only requiring 13 implementation specifications. The remainder of the implementation specifications is “addressable.” For addressable specifications, an entity decides whether each specification is a reasonable and appropriate security measure to apply within its particular security framework. This decision is based on a variety of factors, for example, the entity's risk analysis, what measures are already in place, the particular interest to small entities, and the cost of implementation.

Based on the decision, an entity can-- (1) implement the specification if reasonable and appropriate; (2) implement an alternative security measure to accomplish the purposes of the standard; or (3) not implement anything if the specification is not reasonable and appropriate and the standard can still be met.

This approach will provide flexibility for all entities, and especially small entities that would be most concerned about the cost and complexity of the security standards. Small entities can look at the addressable implementation specifications and tailor their compliance based on their risks and capabilities of addressing those risks.

The required risk analysis is also a tool to allow flexibility for entities in meeting the requirements of this final rule. The risk analysis requirement is designed to allow entities to look at their own operations and determine the security risks involved. The degree of response is determined by the risks identified. We assume that smaller entities, who deal with smaller amounts of information would have smaller physical facilities, smaller work forces, and therefore, would assume less risk. The smaller amount of risk involved means that the response to that risk can be developed on a smaller scale than that for larger organizations.

Individuals and States are not included in the definition of a small entity. However, the security standards will affect small entities, such as providers and health plans, and vendors in much the same way as they affect any larger entities. Small providers who conduct electronic transactions and small health plans must meet the provisions of this regulation and implement the security standards. A more detailed analysis of the impact on small entities is part of the impact analysis published on August 17, 2000 (65 FR 50312), which provided the impact for all of the HIPAA standards, except privacy. As we discussed above, the scalability factor of the standards means that the requirements placed upon small providers and plans would be consistent with the complexity of their operations. Therefore, small providers and plans with appropriate security processes in place would need to do relatively little in order to comply with the standards. Moreover, small plans will have an additional year to come into compliance.

In addition, section 1102(b) of the Act requires us to prepare a regulatory impact analysis if a rule may have a significant impact on the operations of a substantial number of small rural hospitals. This analysis must conform to the provisions of section 604 of the RFA. For purposes of section 1102(b) of the Act, we define a small rural hospital as a hospital that is located outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area and has fewer than 100 beds. While this rule may have a significant impact on small rural hospitals, the impact should be minimized by the scalability factors of the standards, as discussed above in the impact on all small entities. In addition, we have previously discussed the impact of small entities in the RIA published as part of the August 17, 2000 final regulation for the Standards for Electronic Transactions.

Section 202 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) of 1995 also requires that agencies assess anticipated costs and benefits before issuing any rule that may result in expenditure in any 1 year by State, local, or tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $110 million. We estimate that implementation of all the standards will require the expenditure of more than $110 million by the private sector. Therefore, the rule establishes a Federal private sector mandate and is a significant regulatory action within the meaning of section 202 of UMRA (2 U.S.C. 1532). We have included the statements to address the anticipated effects of these rules under section 202.

These standards also apply to State and local governments in their roles as health plans or health care providers. Because these entities, in their roles as health plans or providers, must implement the requirements in these rules, the rules impose unfunded mandates on them. Further discussion of this issue can be found in the previously published impact analysis for all standards (65 FR 50360 through 50361).

The anticipated benefits and costs of the security standards, and other issues raised in section 202 of the UMRA, are addressed in the analysis below, and in the combined impact analysis. In addition, as required under section 205 of the UMRA (2 U.S.C. 1535), having considered a reasonable number of alternatives as outlined in the preamble to this rule, HHS has concluded that this final rule is the most cost-effective alternative for implementation of HHS's statutory objective of administrative simplification.

Executive Order 13132 establishes certain requirements that an agency must meet when it promulgates a proposed rule (and subsequent final rule) that imposes substantial direct requirement costs on State and local governments, preempts State law, or otherwise has Federalism implications. The proposed rule was published before the enactment of Executive Order 13132 of August 4, 1999, Federalism (published in the Federal Register on August 10, 1999 (64 FR 43255)), which required meaningful and timely input by State and local officials in the development of rules that have Federalism implications). However, we received and considered comments on the proposed rule from State agencies and from entities who conduct transactions with State agencies. Several of the comments referred to the costs that will result from implementation of the HIPAA standards. As we stated in the impact analysis, we are unable to estimate the cost of implementing security features as implementation needs will vary dependent upon a risk assessment and upon what is already in place. However, the previously referenced impact analysis in the August 17, 2000 final rule (65 FR 50312) showed that Administrative Simplification costs will be offset by future savings.

In complying with the requirements of part C of title XI, the Secretary established interdepartmental implementation teams who consulted with appropriate State and Federal agencies and private organizations. These external groups consisted of the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics (NCVHS) Subcommittee on Standards and Security, the Workgroup for Electronic Data Interchange (WEDI), the National Uniform Claim Committee (NUCC), the National Uniform Billing Committee (NUBC), and the American Dental Association (ADA). The teams also received comments on the proposed regulation from a variety of organizations, including State Medicaid agencies and other Federal agencies.

B. Anticipated Effects

The analysis in the August 2000, Transaction Rule included the expected costs and benefits of the administrative simplification regulations related to electronic systems for 10 years. Although only the electronic transaction standards were promulgated in the transaction rule, HHS expected affected parties to make systems compliance investments collectively because the regulations are so integrated. Moreover, the data available to us were also based on the collective requirements of this regulation. It is not feasible to identify the incremental technological and computer costs for each regulation. Although HHS is issuing rules under HIPAA sequentially, affected entities and vendors are bundling services, that is, they have been anticipating the various needs and are designing relatively comprehensive systems as they develop hardware and software. For example, a vendor developing a system for electronic billing would also anticipate and include security features, even in the absence of any regulation. Moreover, a draft of the security rule was first published in 1998. Even though the final is different (and less burdensome), vendors had a reasonable indication of the direction policy would go. Thus, in preparing the electronic transaction rule, we recognized and included costs that might theoretically be associated with security or other HIPPA rules. Hence, some of the “costs” of security have already been accounted for in the Standards for Electronic Transactions cost estimate (45 CFR parts 160 and 162), which was published in the Federal Register on August 17, 2000 (65 FR 50312).

This analysis showed that the combined impact of the Administrative Simplification standards is expected to save the industry $29.9 billion over 10 years. We are including in each subsequent rule an impact analysis that is specific to the standard or standards in that rule, but the impact analysis will assess only the incremental cost of implementing a given standard over another. Thus, the following discussion contains the impact analysis for the marginal costs of the security standards in this final rule.

The following describes the specific impacts that relate to the security standards. The security of electronic protected health information is, and has been for some time, a basic business requirement that health care entities ignore at their peril. Instances of “hacking” and other security violations may be widely publicized, and can seriously damage an institution's community standing. Appropriate security protections are crucial for encouraging the growth and use of electronic data interchange. The synergistic effect of the employment of the security standards will enhance all aspects of HIPAA's Administrative Simplification requirements. In addition, it is important to recognize that security is not a one-time project, but rather an on-going, dynamic process.

C. Changes From the 1998 Impact Analysis

The overall impact analysis for Administrative Simplification was first published on May 7, 1998 (63 FR 25320) in the proposed rule for the National Provider Identifier standard (45 CFR part 142), the first of the proposed Administrative Simplification rules. That impact analysis was based on the industry situation at that time, used statistics which were current at that time, and assumed that all of the HIPAA standards would be implemented at roughly the same time, which would permit software changes to be made less expensively. While the original impact analysis represented our best information at that time, we realize that the state of the industry, and of security technology, has changed since 1998. We discuss several of those changes and how they affect the impact of this regulation.

  1. Changes in Technology

    The state of technology for health care security has changed since 1998. New technologies to protect information have been developed over the past several years. As a result, HHS has consulted with the Gartner Group, a leading technology assessment organization, regarding what impact these changes in the industry might have on the expected impact of this regulation. The Gartner analysis indicated that the cost of meeting the requirements of a reasonable interpretation of the security rule in 2002 is probably less than 10 percent higher in 2002 than it was in 1998. This increase is mainly driven by more active threats and increased personnel costs offsetting decreases in technology costs over the past 4 years. However, spending by companies who have anticipated the security rule or who have independently made business decisions to implement security policies and procedures as good business practice(s) has already occurred, and probably will cancel out the increased costs of implementation. Therefore, Gartner expects the cost of complying with the HIPAA security standards to be about the same now as it was in 1998.

  2. Synchronizing Standards

    The timelines for the implementation of the initial HIPAA standards (transactions, identifiers, and security) are no longer closely synchronized. However, we do not believe that this lack of synchronization will have a significant impact on the cost of implementing security. The analysis provided by the Gartner group indicated that implementing security standards is being viewed by entities as a separate task from implementing the transaction standards, and that this is not having a significant impact on costs. As with other HIPAA standards, most current entities will have a 2-year implementation period before compliance with the standards is required. Covered entities will develop their own implementation schedules, and may phase in various security measures over that time period.

  3. Relationship to Privacy Standards

    The publication of the final Privacy Rules (45 CFR parts 160 and 164) on December 28, 2000 in the Federal Register (65 FR 82462) and on August 14, 2002 (67 FR 53182) has affected the impact of this regulation significantly. Covered entities must implement the privacy standards by April 14, 2003 (April 14, 2004 for small health plans). The implementation of privacy standards reduces the cost of implementing the security standards in two significant areas.

    First, we have made substantial efforts to ensure that the many requirements in the security standards parallel those for privacy, and can easily be satisfied using the solutions for privacy. Administrative requirements like the need for written policies, responsible officers, and business associate agreements that are already required by the Privacy Rule can also serve to meet the security standards without significant additional cost. The analysis of data flows and data uses that covered entities are doing so as to comply with the Privacy Rule should also serve as the starting point for parallel analysis required by this final rule.

    Second, it is likely that covered entities will meet a number of the requirements in the security standards through the implementation of the privacy requirements. For example, in order to comply with the Privacy Rule requirements to make reasonable efforts to limit the access of members of the work force to specified categories of protected health information, covered entities may implement some of the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards that the entity's risk analysis and assessment would require under the Security Rule. E-mail authentication procedures put into place for privacy protection may also meet the security standards, thereby eliminating the need for additional investments to meet these standards. As a result, covered entities that have moved forward in implementing the privacy standards are also implementing security measures at the same time. Since the proposed security standards proposed rule represents the most authoritative guidance now available on the nature of these standards, some entities have been using them to develop their security measures. Those entities should face minimal incremental costs in implementing the final version of these standards.

    We are unable to quantify these overlaps, but we believe they may reduce the cost of implementing these security standards. The analysis provided to the HHS by the Gartner Group also stated that compliance with the Privacy Rule will have a moderate effect on the cost of compliance with the Security Rule, reducing it slightly.

  4. Sensitivity to Security Concerns as a Result of September 11, 2001

    In our discussions with the Gartner Group, they indicated that they saw little evidence of increased security awareness in health care organizations as a result of the events of September 11, 2001. However, a survey conducted by Phoenix Health Systems in the winter of 2002 showed that 65 percent of the respondents to the survey (hospitals, payers, vendors, and clearinghouses) have moderately to greatly increased their attention on overall security. If these organizations have already made investments in security that meet some of the requirements of this rule, it will reduce their added costs of compliance. However, HHS can make no clear statement of the impact of this attention.

D. Guiding Principles for Standard Selection

The implementation teams charged with designating standards under the statute have defined, with significant input from the health care industry, a set of common criteria for evaluating potential standards. These criteria are based on direct specifications in the HIPAA, the purpose of the law, and principles that support the regulatory philosophy set forth in the E.O. 12866 of September 30, 1993, and the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995. In order to be designated as such, a standard should do the following:

  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health care system by leading to cost reductions for or improvements in benefits from electronic health care transactions. This principle supports the regulatory goals of cost-effectiveness and avoidance of burden.
  • Meet the needs of the health data standards user community, particularly health care providers, health plans, and health care clearinghouses. This principle supports the regulatory goal of cost-effectiveness.
  • Be consistent and uniform with the other HIPAA standards (that is, their data element definitions and codes, and their privacy and security requirements) and, secondarily, with other private and public sector health data standards. This principle supports the regulatory goals of consistency and avoidance of incompatibility, and it establishes a performance objective for the standard.
  • Have low additional development and implementation costs relative to the benefits of using the standard. This principle supports the regulatory goals of cost-effectiveness and avoidance of burden.
  • Be supported by an ANSI-accredited standards developing organization or other private or public organization that would ensure continuity and efficient updating of the standard over time. This principle supports the regulatory goal of predictability.
  • Have timely development, testing, implementation, and updating procedures to achieve administrative simplification benefits faster. This principle establishes a performance objective for the standard.
  • Be technologically independent of the computer platforms and transmission protocols used in health transactions, except when they are explicitly part of the standard. This principle establishes a performance objective for the standard and supports the regulatory goal of flexibility.
  • Be precise and unambiguous but as simple as possible. This principle supports the regulatory goals of predictability and simplicity.
  • Keep data collection and paperwork burdens on users as low as is feasible. This principle supports the regulatory goals of cost-effectiveness and avoidance of duplication and burden.
  • Incorporate flexibility to adapt more easily to changes in the health care infrastructure (for example, new services, organizations, and provider types) and information technology. This principle supports the regulatory goals of flexibility and encouragement of innovation.

We assessed a wide variety of security standards and guidelines against the principles listed above, with the overall goal of achieving the maximum benefit for the least cost. As we stated in the proposed rule, we found that no single standard for security exists that encompasses all the requirements that were listed in the law. However, we believe that the standards we are adopting in this final rule collectively accomplish these goals.

E. Affected Entities

  1. Health Care Providers

    Covered health care providers may incur implementation costs for establishing or updating their security systems. The majority of costs to implement the security standard (purchase and installation of appropriate computer hardware and software, and physical safeguards) would generally be incurred in the initial implementation period for the specific requirements of the security standard. Health care providers that do not conduct electronic transactions for which standards have been adopted are not affected by these regulations.

  2. Health Plans

    All health plans, as the term is defined in regulation at 45 CFR 160.103, must comply with these security standards. In addition, health plans that engage in electronic health care transactions may have to modify their systems to meet the security standards. Health plans that maintain electronic health information may also have to modify their systems to meet the security standards. This conversion would have a one-time cost impact on Federal, State, and private plans alike.

    We recognize that this conversion process has the potential to cause business disruption of some health plans. However, health plans would be able to schedule their implementation of the security standards and other standards in a way that best fits their needs, as long as they meet the deadlines specified in the HIPAA law and regulations. Moreover, small plans (many of which are employer-sponsored) will have an additional year in which to achieve compliance. Small health plans are defined at 45 CFR 160.103 as health plans with annual receipts of $5 million or less.

  3. Clearinghouses

    All health care clearinghouses must meet the requirements of this regulation. Health care clearinghouses would face effects similar to those experienced by health care providers and health plans. However, because clearinghouses represent one way in which providers and plans can achieve compliance, the clearinghouses' costs of complying with these standards would probably be passed along to those entities, to be shared over the entire customer base.

  4. System Vendors

    Systems vendors that provide computer software applications to health care providers and other billers of health care services would likely be affected. These vendors would have to develop software solutions that would allow health plans, providers, and other users of electronic transactions to protect these transactions and the information in their databases from unauthorized access to their systems. Their costs would also probably be passed along to their customer bases.

F. Factors in Establishing the Security Standard

  1. General Effect

    In assessing the impact of these standards, it is first necessary to focus on the general nature of the standards, their scalability, and the fact that they are not dependent upon specific technologies. These factors will make it possible for covered entities to implement them with the least possible impact on resources. Because there is no national security standard in widespread use throughout the industry, adopting any of the candidate standards would require most health care providers, health plans, and health care clearinghouses to at least conduct an assessment of how their current security measures conform to the new standards. However, we assume that most, if not all, covered entities already have at least some rudimentary security measures in place. Covered entities that identify gaps in their current measures would need to establish or revise their security precautions.

    It is also important to note that the standards specify what goals are to be achieved, but give the covered entity some flexibility to determine how to meet those goals. This is different from the transaction standards, where all covered entities must use the exact same implementation guide. With respect to security, covered entities will be able to blend security processes now in place with new processes. This should significantly reduce compliance costs.

    Based on our analysis and comments received, the security standards adopted in this rule do not impose a greater burden on the industry than the options we did not select, and they present significant advantages in terms of universality and flexibility.

    We understand that some large health plans, health care providers, and health care clearinghouses that currently exchange health information among trading partners may already have security systems and procedures in place to protect the information from unauthorized access. These entities may not incur significant costs to meet the security standards. Large entities that have sophisticated security systems in place may only need minor revisions or updates to their systems to meet the security standards, or indeed, may not need to make any changes in their systems.

    While small providers are not likely to have implemented sophisticated security measures, they are also not as likely to need them as larger covered entities. The scalability principle allows providers to adopt measures that are appropriate to their own circumstances.

  2. Complexity of Conversion

    The complexity of the conversion to the security standards could be significantly affected by the volume of transactions that covered entities transmit and process electronically and the desire to transmit directly or to use the services of a Value Added Network (VAN) or a clearinghouse. If a VAN or clearinghouse is used, some of the conversion activities would be carried out by that organization, rather than by the covered entity. This would simplify conversion for the covered entity, but makes the covered entity dependent on the success of its business associate. The architecture, and specific technology limitations of existing systems could also affect the complexity of the conversion (for example, certain practice management software that does not contain password protection will require a greater conversion effort than software that has a password protection option already built into it).

  3. Cost of Conversion

    Virtually all providers, health plans, and clearinghouses that transmit or store data electronically have already implemented some security measures and will need to assess existing security, identify areas of risk, and implement additional measures in order to come into compliance with the standards adopted in this rule. We cannot estimate the per-entity cost of implementation because there is no information available regarding the extent to which providers', plans', and clearinghouses' current security practices are deficient. Moreover, some security solutions are almost cost-free to implement (for example, reminding employees not to post passwords on their monitors), while others are not.

    Affected entities will have many choices regarding how they will implement security. Some may choose to assess security using in-house staff, while others will use consultants. Practice management software vendors may also provide security consultation services to their customers. Entities may also choose to implement security measures that require hardware and/or software purchases at the time they do routine equipment upgrades.

    The security standards we adopt in this rule were developed with considerable input from the health care industry, including providers, health plans, clearinghouses, vendors, and standards organizations. Industry members strongly advocated the flexible approach we adopt in this rule, which permits each affected entity to develop cost-effective security measures appropriate to their particular needs. We believe that this approach will yield the lowest implementation cost to industry while ensuring that electronic protected health information is safeguarded.

    All of the nation's health plans (over 2 million) and providers (over 600,000) will need to conduct some level of gap analysis to assess current procedures against the standards. However, we cannot estimate the number of covered entities that would have to implement additional security systems and procedures to meet the adopted standards. Also, we are not able to estimate the number of providers that do not conduct electronic transactions today but may choose to do so at some future time (these would be entities that send and receive paper transactions and maintain paper records and thus would not be affected). We believe that the security standards represent the minimum necessary for adequate protection of health information in an electronic format and as such should be implemented by all covered entities. As discussed earlier in this preamble, the security requirements are both scalable and technically flexible; and while the law requires each health plan that is not a small plan to comply with the security and electronic signature requirements no later than 24 months after the effective date of the final rule, small plans will be allowed an additional 12 months to comply.

    Since we are unable to estimate the number of entities that may need to make changes to meet the security standards, we are also unable to estimate the cost for those entities. However, we believe that the cost of establishing security systems and procedures is a portion of the costs associated with converting to the administrative simplification standards that are required under HIPAA, which are estimated in the previously referenced impact analysis.

    This discussion on conversion costs relates only to health plans, health care providers, and health care clearinghouses that are required to implement the security standards. The cost of implementing security systems and procedures for entities that do not transmit, receive, or maintain health information electronically is not a cost imposed by the rule, and thus, is not included in our estimates.

G. Alternatives Considered

In developing this final rule, the Department considered some alternatives. One alternative was to not issue a final rule. However, this would not meet the Department's obligations under the HIPAA statute. It would also leave the health industry without a set of standards for protecting the security of health information. The vast majority of commenters supported our efforts in developing a set of standards. Thus, we concluded that not publishing a final rule was not in the best interests of the industry and not in the best interests of persons whose medical information will be protected by these measures.

A second alternative was to publish the final rule basically unchanged from the proposed rule. Although most commenters supported the approach of the proposed rule, there were significant objections to the number of required specifications, concerns about the scope of certain requirements, duplication and ambiguity of some requirements, and the overall complexity of the approach. Based on those comments, it was clear that revisions had to be made. In addition, the proposed rule was developed before the Privacy Rule requirements were developed. Thus, it did not allow for any alignment of requirements between the Privacy and Security standards.

As a result, the Department determined that an approach that modified the proposed rule and aligned the requirements with the Privacy standards was the preferred alternative.