Gastroenterology Practices Pays $100K For HIPAA Noncompliance

The $100,000 settlement payment the medical practice of Steven A. Porter, M.D., has agreed to pay $100,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to settle a potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule Serves as a warning to other physicians and healthcare providers that they too could pay big bucks for failing to comply with HIPAA. The resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found here.

Dr. Porter’s medical practice provides gastroenterological services to over 3,000 patients per year in Ogden, Utah.

OCR began investigating Dr. Porter’s medical practice after it filed a breach report with OCR related to a dispute with a business associate. OCR’s investigation determined that Dr. Porter had never conducted a risk analysis at the time of the breach report, and despite significant technical assistance throughout the investigation, had failed to complete an accurate and thorough risk analysis after the breach and failed to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level.

Many physician and other small healthcare providers underestimate their responsibilities or their exposure for noncompliance. Many have never conducted the necessary risk analysis or initially adopted the requisite policies and procedures to comply. Furthermore, practices relying upon outsourced management or compliance services for their HIPAA compliance need to ensure that they have appropriate business associates agreements with those and all other service providers. While OCR typically takes into account efforts to obtain services as evidence of a culture of compliance, when breaches happen in the practice or at the business associate, A physician or other healthcare provider can expect OCR to investigate their compliance and potentially their culpability for the breach.  physicians and other healthcare providers also should not assume that their engagement of a service HIPAA to comply with or provide HIPAA compliant services equates to making that service provider accountable for the quality in adequacy of the services.Typically service providers and consultants limit their liability contractually and otherwise when providing these services, often do not have adequate compliance themselves, or both. Licensing agreements and other services contracts typically include various provisions excusing or limiting the service provider from liability for deficiencies in compliance resulting from inadequacies in their procedures, operational noncompliance or both. In some instances, business associates may include provisions in their business associate agreement or other related agreements that actually obligate the healthcare provider to defend and indemnify the service provider for breaches and other liabilities arising out of HIPAA noncompliance. Since the cost of investigating and defending an alleged complaint can be very expensive even if no penalties are sought by OCR, most physicians and other healthcare providers should explore the availability of insurance coverage to help protect against these expenses.

“All health care providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “The failure to implement basic HIPAA requirements, such as an accurate and thorough risk analysis and risk management plan, continues to be an unacceptable and disturbing trend within the health care industry.”

In addition to the monetary settlement, Dr. Porter will undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring.

Physicians and other healthcare providers need to keep in mind that OCR penalties are not the only risk of HIPAA violations. Noncompliance with these requirements also commonly gives rise to licensing board, peer review, and other professional, employment or contractual consequences as well as negative publicity. 

The resolution agreement demonstrates OCR requires physicians shouldn’t expect OCR to look the other way when they violate HIPAA. Given the potential professional and monetary liability risk that result from complaints and violations, physicians and other healthcare Should consult with qualified legal counsel for assistance with assessing the adequacy of their current clients within the scope of attorney-client privilege. Additionally, in the event of a complaint or threaten complaint, physicians and other healthcare providers should take appropriate steps to conduct a documentary investigation. As discussions and activities conducted in association with such investigations can involve sensitive communications and information, it also is advisable to consult with legal counsel at the beginning of an issue to determine whether the investigation or other activities should be conducted within the scope of attorney-client privilege so as to minimize exposure of sensitive communications as admissions or another discoverable evidence for administrative or litigation proceedings.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.  

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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