Transparency and Access in a Pandemic: Understanding the Impact of HIPAA on Government Disclosures


From the start of the pandemic, the American public has had inconsistent and often limited access to the COVID-19 data held by their governments. As legal cover for this lack of transparency, state and local officials have frequently invoked one federal law – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA – and its associated regulations. This article examines that trend. It unpacks the key parts of the regulations and explains why, in many cases, they provide no legal basis for agency refusals to disclose coronavirus-related information. The article also offers potential strategies to requesters seeking to pry that data loose.