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HHS' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) oversees and enforces the new federal privacy regulations. Led by OCR, HHS has issued extensive guidance and technical assistance materials to make it as easy as possible for covered entities to comply with the new requirements. Key elements of OCR's outreach and enforcement efforts include:

Complaint investigations. Enforcement will be primarily complaint-driven. OCR will investigate complaints and work to make sure that consumers receive the privacy rights and protections required under the new regulations. When appropriate, OCR can impose civil monetary penalties for violations of the privacy rule provisions. Potential criminal violations of the law would be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation and appropriate action.

Civil and Criminal Penalties. Congress provided civil and criminal penalties for covered entities that misuse personal health information. For civil violations of the standards, OCR may impose monetary penalties up to $100 per violation, up to $25,000 per year, for each requirement or prohibition violated. Criminal penalties apply for certain actions such as knowingly obtaining protected health information in violation of the law. Criminal penalties can range up to $50,000 and one year in prison for certain offenses; up to $100,000 and up to five years in prison if the offenses are committed under "false pretenses"; and up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison if the offenses are committed with the intent to sell, transfer or use protected health information for commercial advantage, personal gain or malicious harm.

Guidance and technical assistance materials. HHS has issued extensive guidance and technical materials to explain the privacy rule, including an extensive, searchable collection of frequently asked questions that address major aspects of the rule. HHS will continue to expand and update these materials to further assist covered entities in complying. These materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/assist.html.

Conferences and seminars. HHS has participated in hundreds of conferences, trade association meetings and conference calls to explain and clarify the provisions of the privacy regulation. These included a series of regional conferences sponsored by HHS, as well as many held by professional associations and trade groups. HHS will continue these outreach efforts to encourage compliance with the privacy requirements.

Information line. To help covered entities find out information about the privacy regulation and other administrative simplification provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, OCR and HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have established a toll-free information line. The number is (866) 627-7748.

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