Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates got another wake up call about the growing importance of strengthening their policies, practices and safeguards of medical information and records that are “protected health information” under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules with the announcement on July 7 that the University of California at Los Angeles Health System (UCLAHS) has reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to pay $865,500 and act to strengthen its health information privacy and security practices to settle charges of HIPAA violations.
The latest in a series of recently announced high-dollar Resolution Agreements, the UCLAHS Resolution Agreement highlights the growing risks that covered entities and their business associates run by failing to adequately adopt and administer the policies, systems and other management controls and training necessary to ensure that their organizations and their employees and other members of their workforce actually operationally comply with HIPAA.
Increased penalties, tighter rules and recent enforcement actions by OCR make it more important than ever that covered entities tighten their compliance and risk management policies and procedures.
As a result of amendments enacted as part of the HITECH Act, Congress modified and expanded the HIPAA audit and enforcement obligations of OCR, amended and expanded the potential penalties, made business associates liable for violation of the privacy rules like covered entities, added an obligation for covered entities and business associates to provide notification of breaches of unsecured PHI and tightened other HIPAA obligations. The HITECH Act also gave state attorneys general to bring civil lawsuits against covered entities and business associates that commit HIPAA violations that injure citizens in their state under certain circumstances. Eventually, individuals injured by HIPAA violations will get the right to share in a portion of certain HIPAA recoveries. See HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website.
OCR enforcement actions and statistics make clear that OCR is serious about investigation and enforcement of HIPAA violations. This Spring, OCR assessed its first civil monetary penalty (CMP) under HIPAA – a $4.3 million against Cignet Health of Prince George’s County, Md. (Cignet) and entered into a series of Resolution Agreements under which CVS Pharmacy, Inc., General Hospital Corporation and Massachusetts General Physicians Organization Inc., Rite Aid and others paid a million or more dollars as part of the required terms of settlement. See e.g., Rite Aid Pays $1 Million HIPAA Privacy Settlement As OCR Tightens HIPAA Regulations; HIPAA Risks Soar As CVS Agrees To Pay $2.25 Million To Resolve HIPAA Charges & Stimulus Bill Amends HIPAA; Providence To Pay $100,000 & Implement Other Safeguards To Settle HIPAA Penalty Exposures Under HIPAA. Meanwhile, as of January 1, 2011, OCR reported that it had referred more than 484 Privacy Rule breach investigations to the Department of Justice for consideration for potential criminal prosecution and required changes in privacy practices and other corrective actions as part of the requirements for resolution of an additional 12,781 of cases investigated. In addition to these civil enforcement actions by OCR, the Department of Justice has secured several criminal convictions or pleas under HIPAA’s criminal provisions. OCR data confirms that the covered entities involved in these actions included health care providers, health plans, and others. See, e.g., 2 New HIPAA Criminal Actions Highlight Risks From Wrongful Use/Access of Health Information
Lax HIPAA and other practices for protection of medical and other confidential personal information also increasingly exposes covered entities and other organizations to liability under state laws. State courts allow individual plaintiffs to rely on violations of HIPAA as the basis for bringing state privacy, retaliation or other actions. See, e.g. Sorensen v. Barbuto, 143 P.3d 295 (Utah Ct. App. 2006), Acosta v. Byrum, 638 S.E. 2d 246 (N.C. Ct. App. 2006). Private plaintiffs employed by covered entities also claim HIPAA related misconduct as the basis for their retaliation claims. See, e.g., Retaliation For Filing HIPAA Complaint Recognized As Basis For State Retaliatory Discharge Claim.
HIPAA-specific exposures, wrongful use, access or disclosure of medical information also can expose covered entities, members of their workforce and others improperly using, accessing or disclosing protected health information to liability under other federal or state laws. See, Cybercrime & Identity Theft: Health Information Security Beyond HIPAA; NY AG Cuomo Announcement of 1st Settlement For Violation of NY Security Breach Notification Law; Woman Who Revealed AIDs Info Gets A Year.
These and other developments make clear that covered entities and their business associates must get serious about HIPAA compliance and risk management. These organizations should review and tighten privacy policies, breach and other monitoring, training and other practices to mitigate against exposures in light of recently tightened requirements and new enforcement risks.
For More Details Or Help With HIPAA & Other Risk Management & Compliance Needs
To learn more about the UCLAHS Resolution Agreement and other risk management tips, see UCLA Health Systems Payment of $865,000 To Settle HIPAA Charges Shows Rising HIPAA Risk.
If you need assistance monitoring federal health reform, policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, can help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 23 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.
Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications. For instance, On May 3, 2011, Ms. Stamer served as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR and will moderate a teleconference featuring comments by OCR’s Susan McAndrew for the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits scheduled for May 16. Her insights on the required “culture of compliance” with HIPAA also recently were quoted in medical privacy related publications of the Atlantic Information Service. Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others. You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. To ask for legal help with these or other compliance concerns, inquire about arranging for compliance audit or training, or matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here. You can review other publications and resources and additional information about the employment, employee benefits and other experience of Ms. Stamer here and register to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here. For important information concerning this communication click here.Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at www.solutionslawpress.com.
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