The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has a new Director to lead its HIPAA enforcement efforts. Late last week, the Trump Administration quietly installed Roger Severino as the new head of OCR filling the position left vacant following the departure of Jocelyn Samuels.
No official announcement about the appointment has been made by the Trump Administration, although an OCR spokesperson has confirmed that Roger Severino has taken the position. Severino has also updated his LinkedIn profile to include his new role.
OCR is the primary HIPAA enforcer and is responsible for ensuring covered entities comply with HIPAA Rules. The role of director includes overseeing the issuing of guidance for covered entities on various aspects of HIPAA compliance, providing technical assistance to help covered entities comply with HIPAA Rules and taking action against healthcare organizations that violate HIPAA Rules.
Over the past 12 months, OCR’s HIPAA enforcement activities have increased significantly. 2016 saw more settlements reached with covered entities for non-compliance issues than any other year. While OCR’s Deven McGraw said earlier this year that OCR HIPAA settlements will continue to be reached with covered entities for non-compliance at a similar level as 2016, Severino’s appointment is likely to have an impact on how OCR operates and on the extent of HIPAA enforcement.
Severino does not have a background in healthIT privacy and security. The next few months will see him get up to speed on this aspect of the job. The other main area of responsibility of OCR is ensuring Americans are not discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.
Severino has a strong background in civil rights, having served as director of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity for two years. Prior to that, Severino was employed as a trial attorney within the civil rights division of the Department of Justice for seven years. During his time at the DoJ, Severino litigated many discrimination cases.
However, while he has the civil rights background, not everyone is happy with his appointment. There has been concern raised by the LGBTQ community as Severino has previously spoken out in opposition to gender-identity legislation and same-sex marriage. Severino has co-authored a number of papers that have criticized the Obama Administration’s handling of gender identity issues and he actively opposed Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination “on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities.”Severino has also been vocal in his opposition of civil rights for transgender people.
JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs of HRC, said “I could not think of a more dangerous person to head up the Office of Civil Rights at HHS.”