Reps want help for health apps

A pair of House lawmakers want clearer rules of the road for mobile applications that track people’s health.

Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) wrote a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Thursday asking the agency to clarify how app companies can comply with privacy laws.

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“In order to make sure that mobile health apps and other companies can in good faith comply with these important protections, we ask that HHS provide clear, easily accessible and up to date regulatory guidance for HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] compliance with regard to new technologies," they wrote.

The agency’s current online guidance for privacy issues has not been updated since 2006, they wrote, “years before an app store existed, much less the modern mobile device.”

“Many companies creating mobile health apps have told us that they want to fully comply with HIPAA regulations, but have difficulty confirming that they have done so because current regulatory guidance does not cover technologies that they me using," they added.

In their letter, the pair of lawmakers said the agency should update those guidelines for what companies are expected to do, especially when it comes to data they store in the “cloud.”

The note comes after a request from ACT | The App Association, a trade group, that asked lawmakers earlier this week for help with clearer guidance.

In a statement, the group said their industry is “committed to providing a safe and secure environment for our consumers with strong privacy protections."

“Unfortunately, we are working in a regulatory environment that has not kept pace with the rapid growth of technology,” the group added.