Cyberhack Leads Health IT Network Provider To Pay $2.3 Million HIPAA Penalty

The $2.3 million dollar resolution agreement that CHSPSC LLC, (“CHSPSC”) has agreed to pay to the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) send a clear message to health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates to ensure they adequately protect electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) on their systems against cyberhacking in accordance with the Health Insurance Portabiity and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Privacy and Security Rules.

An IT and health information management services to hospitals and physician clinics indirectly owned by Franklin, Tennessee based Community Health Systems, Inc., CHSPCSC has agreed to pay OCR $2,300,000 and take corrective actions to settle OCR charges that CHSPCSC’s longstanding systematic violations of the HIPAA Security Rules allowed hackers to breach confidential ePHIof more than six million people under a resolution agreement and corrective action plan reached with OCR in March, 2020 and made public by OCR on September 23, 2020 . 

According to the OCR, CHSPSC’s longstanding, systematic noncompliance with the HIPAA Security Rule allowed cyberhackers to to access the ePHI stored on CHSPSC’s information system virtual private network.  The resolution agreement reports that on April 10, 2014, an Advanced Persistent Threat group known as APT18, used compromised administrative credentials remotely to access CHSPSC’s information system through its virtual private network (VPN). CHSPSC was unaware of the intrusion until notified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on April 18, 2014. The last identified evidence of attacker activity occurred on August 18, 2014.

OCR determined that APT18’s intrusion affected 237 covered entities served by CHSPSC and that APT18 exfiltrated the PHI of 6,121,158 individuals. The compromised PHI included the name, sex, date of birth, phone number, social security number, email, ethnicity, and emergency contact information of these individuals.

OCR also concluded the breach was made possible by longstanding violations by CHSPSC of the HIPAA Security Rule that included its failure to conduct a risk analysis, and failures to implement information system activity review, security incident procedures, and access controls.

Furthermore, OCR reports CHSPCS allowed these Security Rule deficiencies to continue even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified CHSPSC in April 2014 that the FBI had traced a cyberhacking group’s advanced persistent threat to CHSPSC’s information system. 

In announcing the resolution agreement, OCR Director Roger Severino reminded HIPAA covered entities and the business associates of the importance of guarding electronic protected health information against cyberhacks.  “The health care industry is a known target for hackers and cyberthieves.  The failure to implement the security protections required by the HIPAA Rules, especially after being notified by the FBI of a potential breach, is inexcusable,” said Director Severino.

In response to OCR’s announcement of the CHSPCS resolution agreement, other HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to reevaluate the adequacy of their own organization’s and systems cybersecurity protections, as well as their processes and procedures for monitoring and responding to emerging cyberthreats.

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. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively on pandemic, business and other crisis planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.

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 “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, as well as a multitude of other health industry matters, workforce and health care change and crisis management and other highly regarded publications and presentations, 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.  

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