House investigates claims that IRS seized millions of medical records

A House committee has launched a probe of the Internal Revenue Service's HIPAA policies and procedures in response to a lawsuit that the agency unlawfully seized 60 million medical records in California.

In a June 11 letter, Republican leaders Tim Murphy and Michael C. Burgess of the Committee on Energy and Commerce demanded the IRS explain its HIPAA policies and procedures and how it ensures protected health information remains confidential and private.

The letter, sent to Danny Werfel, the acting commissioner of the IRS, references the March lawsuit in which an unnamed HIPAA-covered entity in Southern California alleges 15 IRS agents executed a warrant and stole more than 60 million medical records during an investigation of a former employee of the healthcare provider. The complaint says records involve 10 million Americans including every state judge in California, as well as "prominent citizens in the world of entertainment, business and government, from all walks of life."

"While HIPAA privacy rules restrict the ability of a covered entity to release protected health information, those rules appear to impose no restrictions on the IRS's ability to use such information after it is obtained," Murphy and Burgess wrote in the letter.

Furthermore, they wrote, in light of the allegations and the agency's role in implementing healthcare under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they "request information regarding your agency's ability to protect the confidential medical information of millions of Americans."

The House panel probe is just the latest to plague the IRS. Last month, news that the agency targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny ignited the GOP's fight to repeal President Obama's healthcare law.

To learn more:
- read the letter (.pdf)
- see the original complaint (.pdf)

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