Covid-19 and HIPAA: Is a business asking for proof of vaccination a HIPAA violation?

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn (WDEF) – As life begins to return to normal, Americans are wondering if employers, or even businesses , can demand proof of vaccination. This has raised questions about the legality of such inquiries and whether HIPAA makes these requests illegal.

HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This act prevents health care professionals from sharing private health information without a patient’s permission. 

“When we refer to HIPAA we are generally speaking about the privacy rule. That rule protects information about your physical and mental status diagnosis, any healthcare treatment you may be receiving, and any billing or payment information that is related to that,” says Stacie Kershner, Associate Director for the Center of Law, Health and Society, Georgia State College of Law.

Hipaa Violations have been cited by both anti-vaxxers and those who have received the vaccine,  as a way to dismiss any requests about vaccination status. But experts say that HIPAA doesn’t have any bearing on questions about health information-outside of a health care setting.

“People think that HIPAA prohibits everything and everyone but it’s only the Covered entities such as healthcare providers that transmit information electronically, health care clearinghouses and the third is health insurance companies,” says Christie Burbank, Healthcare Regulatory and transactional attorney at Rainey, Kizer, Reviere & Bell.

Since HIPAA only applies to employers if they are the sponsor of your health insurance plan,  experts claim that an employer or business does have the right to ask about your vaccination status-but it is your right to refuse to answer. 

“Somebody going into a business and saying you are violating my HIPAA privacy rule, isn’t actually what HIPAA does. A lot of businesses might just want to know at the door but after that they are not keeping that information. Employers might be collecting that information and records and they can do that , it’s just generally protected by state laws and it’s not HIPAA that’s covering that,” says Kershner. 

“I think people are missing the mark when they mention HIPAA with respect to the vaccine. You know we are in a pandemic, we are in a public health crisis. Certain activities have been undertaken in these types of circumstances that normally wouldn’t have to be undertaken,” says Burbank. (Disclaimer: “Nothing in this interview is intended to constitute legal advice; instead all information is for general informational purposes only.  Answers to legal questions depend upon specific facts.  An attorney must be consulted for actual specific legal advice.”)

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