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The SAFER Health Act Bolsters Right to Privacy in Reproductive Health

Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Updated on April 8th, 2023

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The Secure Access for Essential Reproductive (SAFER) Health Act aims to enhance HIPAA's patient privacy protections for those seeking reproductive healthcare. It was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 by Representative Raul Ruiz, MD, and in the Senate by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. The act would make it illegal for HIPAA-covered entities and business partners to disclose information about pregnancy termination or loss without the patient's permission. It would also order HHS to revise HITECH and HIPAA to implement the law.

Why was the SAFER Health Act introduced?

The SAFER Health Act is the senators' response to the Dobbs ruling by the Supreme Court, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in the US.

How will the SAFER Health Act benefit people if passed?

If SAFER Health Act is passed, people won’t have to worry about “being investigated or prosecuted for receiving or providing reproductive health care." It will safeguard patients' privacy who have had abortions, regardless of where they live or receive care. The Act would bind HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates and prevent them from disclosing information related to abortion without seeking patients' consent.

One key provision of the SAFER Health Act is the requirement for healthcare facilities to establish and maintain patient safety committees. These committees would be responsible for identifying and addressing safety issues within the facility, as well as developing and implementing safety protocols and guidelines. This is particularly important when it comes to reproductive healthcare, which has often been subject to safety issues and violations of patient rights. By establishing patient safety committees, the SAFER Health Act will help to ensure that women receive safe and effective reproductive healthcare free from harassment and other forms of mistreatment.

The SAFER Health Act also includes provisions related to the use of electronic health records (EHRs). Specifically, the bill would require healthcare providers to use EHRs that meet certain safety standards and would provide funding for the development of these standards. This could be particularly important for reproductive healthcare, as EHRs can help to ensure that patient information is accurate and up-to-date, and that patients receive appropriate care.

Another way that the SAFER Health Act could impact reproductive rights is through its provisions related to adverse event reporting. The bill would require healthcare facilities to establish protocols for the handling and reporting of adverse events. This could help to ensure that women are able to report any adverse events related to their reproductive healthcare, and that healthcare providers are held accountable for any harm that they cause.

Are there benefits to the SAFER Health Act outside of reproductive healthcare?

In addition to bolstering privacy in reproductive healthcare, the SAFER Health Act seeks to address some of the most pressing issues in emergency care, including the shortage of trained personnel, lack of access to lifesaving equipment and supplies, and the need for more robust data collection and sharing.

One of the key components of the SAFER Health Act is the establishment of a grant program to improve emergency medical services (EMS) systems. This program would provide funding to states, localities, and tribes to help them improve their EMS infrastructure, equipment, and personnel. The program would also prioritize grants for rural and underserved areas, which often face the greatest challenges in providing emergency care.

Another important provision of the SAFER Health Act is the creation of a national emergency medical services database. This database would help to standardize data collection across the country, allowing for better analysis and understanding of trends in emergency care. It would also help to identify areas of need and inform decisions about how to allocate resources.

The SAFER Health Act also aims to improve the quality of emergency care by promoting evidence-based practices and ensuring that EMS providers receive ongoing training and education. This would help to ensure that emergency care is delivered in a consistent and effective manner, regardless of where a patient is located.

Finally, the SAFER Health Act seeks to address some of the most pressing challenges facing EMS providers, including mental health and substance abuse issues. The act would provide funding for programs that help to support the mental health and well-being of EMS providers, as well as training on how to recognize and respond to substance abuse issues among patients.

What will SAFER Health Act include specifically?

The SAFER Health Act would:

  • Prohibit HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates from sharing sensitive information related to abortion or loss without valid consent from the patient.
  • Apply to federal, State, local, or Tribal proceedings, including civil, criminal, administrative, or legislative proceedings.
  • Direct HHS to revise HIPAA and HITECH regulations that may be necessary to enforce the Act.
  • Require HHS to organize a national campaign to notify and educate the HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates about the revisions.

Is there an exemption to disclosing the PHI of patients that seek reproductive care?

The SAFER Health Act allows sharing of reproductive health information without seeking the patient's consent when used for legal investigations and court cases.

Which organizations have endorsed the SAFER Health Act?

Planned Parenthood Federation of America has endorsed the SAFER Health Act. Others include NARAL Pro-Choice America, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Physicians for Reproductive Health, Doctors for America, National Partnership for Women and Families, Stanford Health Care, Stanford Medicine Children's Health, and URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity.

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