Covered entities under HIPAA are health care clearinghouses, certain health care providers, and health plans. A “group health plan” is one type of health plan and is a covered entity (except for self-administered plans with fewer than 50 participants). The group health plan is considered to be a separate legal entity from the employer or other parties that sponsor the group health plan. Neither employers nor other group health plan sponsors are defined as covered entities under HIPAA.
Thus, the Privacy Rule does not directly regulate employers or other plan sponsors that are not HIPAA covered entities. However, the Privacy Rule does control the conditions under which the group health plan can share protected health information with the employer or plan sponsor when the information is necessary for the plan sponsor to perform certain administrative functions on behalf of the group health plan. See 45 CFR 164.504(f). Among these conditions is receipt of a certification from the employer or plan sponsor that the health information will be protected as prescribed by the rule and will not be used for employment-related actions.
The covered group health plan must comply with Privacy Rule requirements, though these requirements will be limited when the group health plan is fully insured.