Varallo urges action from the Small Business Administration’s National Ombudsman on HIPAA regulations

In June, NCRA President Nancy Varallo testified at the National Regulatory Fairness hearing before the National Ombudsmen at the U.S. Small Business Administration on the potential impact new compliance regulations regarding HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, pose to court reporting professionals. These HIPAA regulations came into law specifically under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, commonly known as the HITECH Act. In addition to her testimony, Varallo has formally requested action from the SBA’s National Ombudsman on behalf of court reporters. She requested that “the Department of Health and Human Services exempt court reporters from provisions of HIPAA regulations, specifically the HITECH Act effective as of Sep. 23, 2013, when they are hired to provide verbatim court reporting services in the courtroom or in litigation-related forums, such as depositions, administrative hearings, arbitrations.”

Varallo’s letter to the National Ombudsman explains that court reporters have long been accustomed to keeping impartial confidentiality, and that protecting private information, including health information, is “a matter of routine business practice.” She further warns that since most court reporters are self-employed, and even most agencies which employ the services of court reporters are smaller than the SBA’s definition of a small business, “compliance with these regulations would be unduly burdensome” not just for court reporters, but also for subcontractors like proofreaders, production assistants, and scopists. The role of these subcontractors is also unclear under the current regulations. Varallo also expressed concern over a potential “abuse of intent” from lawyers or law firms who hire court reporters, who could each draft their own versions of a compliance document, “enabling the proliferation of a minefield of conflicting obligations.”

Varallo concluded her letter by saying, “With regard to court reporters, the HITECH Act will not ensure the sort of outcome envisioned by the law.” Compliance may be feasible for big business that “can undertake the cost and assign the manpower necessary,” but the nature of the court reporting field would make compliance a “significant burden.”