Does HIPAA limit my ability to report on COVID-19 cases?

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

Q: I’m being told the federal HIPAA law limits my ability to report on COVID-19 cases. Is this true?

No. While HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) may limit the information a medical provider can provide about specific, identifiable patients, its restrictions only apply to those who have a “duty of care” to a patient. Journalists have no such duty of care. Where you lawfully obtain information (iie. you’re not trespassing or aiding/encouraging others to do so) HIPAA cannot be used as an excuse to limit your reporting, though, of course normal invasion of privacy rules still apply. It’s also important to note that HIPAA does not restrict government or medical officials from providing purely statistical information about the number of cases, tests, deaths, etc., attributed to the virus as long as it contains no information that personally identifies someone.

See more legal FAQs related to covering the coronavirus.

See SPLC’s Coronavirus Toolkit for additional resources like a letter affirming student media is an “essential service,” what to do if your program is under threat because of the outbreak, FAQs about transitioning your student newsroom to remote work and more.

Legal questions should be directed toward SPLC’s legal hotline. Ask SPLC questions will be selected based on trends in the legal hotline. The legal hotline is confidential and no identifying information will be used in the Ask SPLC segment.