NCRA president addresses concerns over additional HIPAA regulations

 The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA), the country’s leading organization representing stenographic court reporters and captioners, today announced that its President Nancy Varallo, RDR, CRR, FAPR, a court reporting firm owner from Worcester, Mass., testified recently at a National Regulatory Fairness hearing before the U.S. Small Business Administration and expressed concerns over the potential impact new compliance regulations regarding HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) pose to court reporting professionals.

In her testimony, Varallo, a 26-year veteran of court reporting, said she is concerned that the new regulations requiring companies to become compliant with HIPAA are a solution in search of a problem. 

Under HIPAA, which took effect in 1996, major organizations such as health systems, insurance companies, and hospitals that have failed to institute proper privacy protections for protected health information, have faced major fines. However, in recent years the same enforcement efforts have begun impacting smaller businesses. Court reporting firms are concerned because most handle protected health information on a regular basis, often via mobile devices and or cloud computing methods.

“Court reporters are long familiar with the need to keep personal information private,” Varallo told the hearing panel. “We maintain the integrity of personally identifiable information that we encounter on a daily basis.  We know how to use technology, such as DropBox accounts, to avoid sending PII as attachments to emails.  We are careful in handling documents that contain PII,” she added. 

“Litigation brings us into contact with confidential business information that requires us to be extra careful in handling such information.  Many court reporters around the country are hired to report grand jury proceedings; and the confidentiality rules for grand jury testimony are strict and must be met without fail.”

Varallo also noted that there is no history of court reporters violating confidentiality rules emphasized that the newly enacted HIPAA regulations require compliance by business associates of covered entities, yet are unclear about exactly who are those vendors. She posed the question whether court reporters are vendors of lawyers and further stated that if lawyers are considered vendors would it allowable for them to force their court reporters to sign business associate agreements, potentially transferring the burden of compliance. In her testimony, Varallo also noted under the law lawyers would be able to craft their own business associate agreements ultimately creating a nightmare of regulatory paperwork.

“The goal of protecting personal medical information will not be advanced if the HIPAA regulations are interpreted to require us to sign BAAs. We court reporters understand the need to protect personal medical information.  We deal with it every day.  And our stellar track record as an industry, albeit a tiny one, proves we know how to meet our obligations,” she said. 

“I urge you to consider the potential impact of these detailed regulations on the niche industry I represent.  Requiring BAAs of some business entities will clearly advance the goals of the HIPAA regulations.  But requiring court reporters to sign BAAs will not achieve any useful purpose because they will contain a welter of conflicting requirements.”

A 25-year veteran of court reporting, Varallo is a well-recognized leader in the court reporting field, and owner of The Varallo Group, which she founded more than 10 years ago. The firm provides court reporting services, as well as a suite of business services to other court reporting firms. 

Varallo holds the professional certifications of Registered Diplomate Reporter (RDR); NCRA’s highest reporting knowledge certification and the Certified Realtime Reporter (CRR). She is also a Fellow of the Academy of Professional Reporters (FAPR), a nomination-only award that recognizes reporters who have contributed to the profession through leadership, publication, service, and professional certification. She is owner of The Varallo Group in Worcester, Mass., which provides court reporting services, as well as a suite of business services to other court reporting firms.


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