May a covered entity charge individuals a fee for providing the individuals with a copy of their PHI?
Yes, but only within specific limits. The Privacy Rule permits a covered entity to impose a reasonable, cost-based fee to provide the individual (or the individual’s personal representative) with a copy of the individual’s PHI, or to direct the copy to a designated third party. The fee may include only the cost of certain labor, supplies, and postage:
- Labor for copying the PHI requested by the individual, whether in paper or electronic form. Labor for copying includes only labor for creating and delivering the electronic or paper copy in the form and format requested or agreed upon by the individual, once the PHI that is responsive to the request has been identified, retrieved or collected, compiled and/or collated, and is ready to be copied. Labor for copying does not include costs associated with reviewing the request for access; or searching for and retrieving the PHI, which includes locating and reviewing the PHI in the medical or other record, and segregating or otherwise preparing the PHI that is responsive to the request for copying.
While it has always been prohibited to pass on to an individual labor costs related to search and retrieval, our experience in administering and enforcing the HIPAA Privacy Rule has shown there is confusion about what constitutes a prohibited search and retrieval cost and this guidance further clarifies this issue. This clarification is important to ensure that the fees charged reflect only what the Department considers “copying” for purposes of applying 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4)(i) and do not impede individuals’ ability to receive a copy of their records.
- Supplies for creating the paper copy (e.g., paper, toner) or electronic media (e.g., CD or USB drive) if the individual requests that the electronic copy be provided on portable media. However, a covered entity may not require an individual to purchase portable media; individuals have the right to have their PHI e-mailed or mailed to them upon request.
- Labor to prepare an explanation or summary of the PHI, if the individual in advance both chooses to receive an explanation or summary and agrees to the fee that may be charged.
- Postage, when the individual requests that the copy, or the summary or explanation, be mailed.
Thus, costs associated with updates to or maintenance of systems and data, capital for data storage and maintenance, labor associated with ensuring compliance with HIPAA (and other applicable law) in fulfilling the access request (e.g., verification, ensuring only information about the correct individual is included, etc.) and other costs not included above, even if authorized by State law, are notpermitted for purposes of calculating the fees that can be charged to individuals. See 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4).
Further, while the Privacy Rule permits the limited fee described above, covered entities should provide individuals who request access to their information with copies of their PHI free of charge. While covered entities should forgo fees for all individuals, not charging fees for access is particularly vital in cases where the financial situation of an individual requesting access would make it difficult or impossible for the individual to afford the fee. Providing individuals with access to their health information is a necessary component of delivering and paying for health care. We will continue to monitor whether the fees that are being charged to individuals are creating barriers to this access, will take enforcement action where necessary, and will reassess as necessary the provisions in the Privacy Rule that permit these fees to be charged.