Health-Care Cybersecurity Takes Center Stage

It’s no secret that we live in a world where cyberattacks are the norm. Whether it’s Equifax, Target, or Anthem, major companies are increasingly being hacked, putting at risk everything from credit card to Social Security numbers. The health-care sector is an especially appealing target, with its vast trove of patient data, and efforts are afoot in Congress to strengthen data security.

The bipartisan HHS Cybersecurity Modernization Act (H.R. 4191), introduced Nov. 1 by Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), would bolster health information security and create a new position within the Department of Health and Human Services devoted to cybersecurity issues. The bill was referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Appointing a cyberlead at the HHS would help to underline concerns with the current HHS security systems and controls, Alisa Chestler, a health-care attorney with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz in Nashville, Tenn., told me. “This kind of legislation should be one of the few bipartisan bills that have a chance of making it through Congress in the upcoming session,” Chestler said.

There’s a growing consensus that regulators need to focus more attention on cybersecurity issues, so it’s not surprising that lawmakers think the HHS needs more cybersecurity coordination across the entire department, Bradley Merrill Thompson, a Washington-based health-care attorney with Epstein Becker & Green PC, told me.

However, the new cybersecurity position shouldn’t replace current cybersecurity efforts that are ongoing at HHS agencies like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Food and Drug Administration, Thompson said.

The bill is unique in that it doesn’t set aside any additional appropriations for the new position, Thompson said. “That means HHS has to do this work instead of something else,” Thompson said.

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