Pennsylvania OCR Settlement Warns Others Against Disability Or Other Civil Rights Discrimination In COVID-19 Resource Allocation & Other Response

April 30, 2020

OCR Says “No” To Allocating Respirators & Other Scarce COVID-19 Care Based On Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

This week’s Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) announcement of that the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDH) has agreed to using a list of preexisting health care conditions to decide patient priority for access to respirators and other scarce resources during the COVID-19 health care emergency flags potential civil rights discrimination violations by the multitude of other State, local, tribal, and territorial public health policymakers, healthcare systems leadership, and other public emergency decision-makers and other public or private HHS funds recipients (collectively “COVID responders”) whose pandemic emergency response plans call for the use pre-existing health conditions or other civil rights act protected status of patients to ration scarce medical resources like ventilators or other scarce resources.

Coupled with other recent guidance warning COVID responders against discrimination and to provide all legally required accommodations for individuals with pre-existing conditions or disorders constituting disabilities, English as a second language, religion, age or other protected status under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Section 1557”) and other federal civil rights laws, health care providers, public health authorities  and other COVID-19 responders should act immediately to review and take any action needed to correct civil rights law deficiencies in their own COVID-19 emergency policies or operations.

PDH Enforcement Shows Agencies’ Serious About COVID-19 Civil Rights Enforcement

OCR’s April 28, 2020, OCR announcement of PDH’s agreement to revise its Interim Pennsylvania Crisis Standards of Care for Pandemic Guidelines (CSC Guidelines) to revolve an April 3, 2020 civil rights complaint that PDH’s COVID-19 pandemic response plan illegally discriminated against patients with disabilities by denying or lowing the care priority of patients with certain listed preexisting health conditions shows that OCR and other federal agencies are carrying through on promises to take quick enforcement action against COVID-19 responders that violate federal discrimination and other civil rights laws when dealing with the COVID-19 public health emergency in the March 14, 2020  Crisis Standards of Care and Civil Rights Laws guidance (“CSC Guidelines”) and in OCR’s March 28, 2020 Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Bulletin (the “Bulletin”).

The CSC Guidelines jointly issued by the Health Care Resilience Taskforce (composed of HHS, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers) warned public health, health care providers and other pandemic decisionmakers against adopting or applying policies in for managing ventilators or other constricted resources during the COVID-19 or other emergencies that negatively impact vulnerable populations (e.g., older adults and persons with disabilities).   After reminding state, local, tribal, and territorial policymakers, healthcare systems leadership, and other decision-makers that civil rights laws are not suspended or waived in times of disaster, the CSC Guidelines cautioned “Federal civil rights laws and regulations apply, and have not been suspended, during the COVID19 national health emergency. Federal fund recipients must comply with those requirements.”

OCR reaffirmed the CSC Guidelines warnings in its March 28, 2020 Bulletin reminding health care providers and other HHS fund recipients the laudable goal of providing care quickly and efficiently during the COVID-19 health care emergency still must comply with federal civil rights prohibitions against disability discrimination in HHS funded programs under Section 1557, Section 504, and other civil rights laws, stating:

“persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities or age. Decisions by covered entities concerning whether an individual is a candidate for treatment should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence.”

The PDH disability discrimination investigation and resolution announced April 28th resulted from OCR’s investigation of a civil rights complaint filed less than a week after OCR released the Bulletin by Disability Rights Pennsylvania and other disability rights groups.  Like many other regional and facility pandemic response plans, the CSC Guidelines listed specific impairments or disabilities that would lead to greater deprioritization of patients for care during a pandemic emergency.  The April 3 complaint against PDH charged that Pennsylvania’s CSC Guidelines violated Section 504, Title II, and Section 1557 by unlawfully authorizing the denial of treatment to individuals with disabilities when prioritizing access to critical care and ventilators.  The complaint also alleged that the guidelines did not require an individualized assessment, but instead used “preexisting conditions that are disabilities” to determine a priority score.

OCR PDH COVID-19 Civil Rights Investigation & Settlement

Consistent with the warning provided in the Bulletin, OCR moved with rare speed to investigate the complaint and notify PDH of its civil rights concerns. To resolve potential OCR civil rights charges, OCR announced April 28, 2020 that PDH agreed to accept technical assistance from OCR and make the following revisions to its CDC guidelines:

  • Remove criteria that automatically deprioritized persons on the basis of particular disabilities,
  • Require individualized assessments based on the best available, relevant, and objective medical evidence to support triaging decisions, and
  • Ensure at no one is denied care based on stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s “worth” based on the presence or absence of disabilities.

Based on these “responsive actions and the revisions” to its guidelines in response to OCR’s concern, the OCR announcement states that  OCR is closing its complaint investigation as satisfactorily resolved without a finding of liability while noting that this does not preclude future OCR enforcement in cases of potential discriminatory implementation of Pennsylvania’s policies by any covered health care provider.

Other Public Health, Health Care & Other COVID Responders Should Confirm COVID-19 Civil Rights Response Compliance

The PDH announcement provides a strong warning to health care providers, public health authorities and other COVID-19 responders to act quickly to evaluate and make any necessary adjustments to redress any questionable disability or other civil rights concerns in their own COVID-19 or other emergency response plans or practices.

Even before the COVID-19 health care emergency, disability and other civil rights law enforcment already was a high priority for OCR and other federal agencies. See e.g., Civil Rights Settlement Highlights Health Industry Discrimination Risks As OCR Prepares To Broaden RequirementsOCR’s Proposed Sex & Other Discrimination Rules Spell Headaches & New Risks For Health Care Providers, Insurers & OthersCheck Defensibility Of Policies & Practices Given New HHS/DOJ Joint Disability Law Technical AssistanceImportant Lessons For Health Care Providers From Michigan State Settlement Of OCR Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse InvestigationCognitive Disability Exclusion from Heart Transplant List Placement Prohibited.

The PDH announcement clearly alerts other health care providers and COVID-19 responders that OCR does not plan to slacken civil rights discrimination investigation or enforcement against health care providers or others because of the COVID-19 health care emergency.  Rather, the PDH investigaiton and resolution make clear that COVID-19 responders need to use particular care take the well-documented steps necessary to ensure they can defend their ongoing compliance with disability discrimination and other federal civil rights laws throughout the COVID-19 health care emergency.

In this respect, OCR’s PDH announcement makes a point of clearly warning other public health, health care providers and other recipients of HHS funding across the nation against using preexisting conditions or other prohibited stereotypes or classifications of patients without individual assessments to triage and prioritize access to care or other resources for purposes of their COVID-19 or other pandemic planning or response.  To emphasize the importance of continued compliance with these civil rights laws, the Bulletin quotes OCR Director Roger Severino, as stating: “Triage decisions must be based on objective and individualized evidence, not discriminatory assumptions about the prognoses of persons with disabilities” and “we must ensure that triage decisions are free from discrimination both in their creation and their application, and we will remain vigilant in achieving that goal.”

These warnings and OCR’s quick enforcement action make clear that OCR’s commitment to hold health care providers, state and local public health, and other COVID-19 responders accountable for ensuring their COVID-19 pandemic plans and operations don’t impermissibly discriminate against individuals with or needing accommodations for  disabilities, limited English skills, religious beliefs, age or other status protected by HHS’ civil rights rules.  Meanwhile, OCR’s reported willingness to accept PHD’s prompt corrective action without imposing financial sanctions also signals the probable willingness of OCR to show similar leniency to other health care providers or COVID-19 responders that for acting promptly to self-identify and redress potentially questionable past COVID-19 restricted resource allocation practices in response to the PDH announcement and other COVID-19 civil rights compliance guidance.

Given the often multimillion dollar penalties and other heavy sanctions that OCR already regularly imposes against a long and ever-growing list of state and other health care, child care, elder care, insurance and other entities for violating its civil rights nondiscrimination and accommodation requirements and the often significant judgements awarded to private litigant victims, state and local public health, health care providers and other COVID providers generally will want to review and tighten as advisable their existing practices to reduce the risk of being incuring penalties or judgments, being sanctioned, excluded or a combination of these consequences for violation of these nondiscrimination and other civil rights requirements by among other things:

  1. Auditing the adequacy of their pandemic response and other plans, policies, practices and actions for allocating scarce resources and care during the COVID-19 health emergency and in other scarce resource situations;
  2. Developing a strategy and procedures for receiving, investigating and responding with appropriate documentation to complaints or other indicators of potential civil rights violations or risks;
  3. Taking prompt, documented action to reform and strengthen civil rights policies, practices and controls, training, investigations and other compliance and risk management;
  4. Explore potential strategies, if any, to mitigate potential liability exposure to OCR or private litigant investigations or enforcement from past, ongoing or future policies or actions; and
  5. Other actions to maintain and demonstrate their organization-wide culture of compliance with applicable civil rights laws.

Since organization and their leaders likely will be required to uncover and discuss legally and politically sensitive information in the course of these activities, public health, health care and other COVID responders are encouraged to consider engaging qualified legal counsel with relevant experience to advise and guide them in conducting, maintaining and using attorney-client privilege and other procedures to safeguard sensitive analysis, discussions and work product from avoidable discovery and other processes to promote the legal effectiveness and defensibility of their actions.

More Information & Resources

We hope this update is helpful. If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.  In addition to this update, the author of this article also is extensively published and frequent speaker on pandemic and other infectious disease, and other health industry crisis preparedness and response, and many other regulatory compliance, risk management and operations, public policy and other concerns. 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.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. also invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management and regulatory affairs consultant, author and lecturer, who has worked extensively on pandemic and other crisis planning, preparedness and response and other business change, risk, compliance and operation management throughout her 30 plus year career.

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, and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Ms. Stamer is widely recognized for her pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on domestic and international, public and private sector health care and managed care, workforce and performance, safety, legal and operational compliance and risk management, crisis preparedness and response, and other essential legal and operational concerns.

Her experience includes extensive work domestically and internationally with hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing and other long term care, rehabilitation and other health care facilities; physicians, medical staff and other health care providers and organizations; accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations;  health care management and technology and other health and managed care industry clients; self-insured and insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and service providers and other payers; employers; billing, utilization management, quality, 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; 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.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans and a multitude of other publications and workshops on health and other disaster and other crisis preparedness, risk management and response, as well as a multitude of other health care, workforce and other management and regulatory affairs publications and presentations, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership through her extensive and diverse involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations.  Examples of these involvements include her service as the current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former JCEB Council Representative;  past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; former ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Past Chair and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefits Committee;  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; former technical advisor to the National Physicians Council on Health Care Policy; former member of the Stem Cell Advisory Committee; and in a multitude of other professional, trade, civic and community service 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.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides consulting, publications and other information, education, coaching, training, tools and other resources on leadership, governance, health care, human resources, employee benefits, insurance, public policy and regulatory affairs, data security and privacy and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Limited non-exclusive license to republish granted to SOlSolutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


Cognitive Disability Exclusion from Heart Transplant List Placement Prohibited

February 13, 2019

Exclusion of a cognitively impaired patient from its heart transplant list landed University of North Carolina Healthcare System (“UNC Healthcare”) in hot water with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR enforcement action highlights the need for health care organizations to re-evaluate long-standing practices for limiting or denying access to transplants, research or other restricted treatment based on cognitive, mental or other impairments of the patient.

OCR announced February 12 that it resolved a complaint against UNC Health Care alleging that it unlawfully denied an individual the opportunity to be placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) list on the basis of their disability.  UNC Health Care is a public academic medical center comprised of North Carolina Memorial Hospital, North Carolina Children’s Hospital, North Carolina Neurosciences Hospital, and North Carolina Women’s Hospital.

Federal law generally prohibits health care providers from discriminating against patients based on disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (“Section 504”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of Federal financial assistance.

In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by both public and private entities, whether or not they receive Federal financial assistance. Providers covered by Section 504 and/or the ADA may not deny benefits or services to qualified individuals with disabilities or provide lesser benefits than they provide to others. In general, an individual with a disability is “qualified” if that person meets the essential eligibility requirements for receipt of services or participation in the program or activity with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies or practices. The purpose of these laws is to ensure that covered programs are as accessible to persons with disabilities as they are to nondisabled individuals.

In September 2018, OCR received a complaint alleging that an individual with an intellectual disability was in need of a heart transplant, but a doctor on staff at UNC Health Care determined that they were not a good candidate for heart transplant because of their developmental learning disabilities and because they do not live independently.  The complainant asserted that without the transplant, they would eventually die. 

OCR used the Early Complaint Resolution (ECR) process to achieve a successful resolution of this matter.  ECR is a facilitated negotiation between the parties to an OCR complaint with the goal of achieving a resolution that quickly provides a remedy to the individual that has been allegedly discriminated against as well as securing additional measures that can be implemented to reduce the likelihood of future incidents of alleged discrimination.

In January 2019, UNC Health Care agreed that the individual’s medical records will be amended to clarify that they are eligible to be considered for placement on the UNOS transplant list.  OCR will provide technical assistance to UNC Health Care in the development of their transplant eligibility policy.

The UNC Healthcare enforcement and resolution is the latest in a lengthy and growing list of disability discrimination enforcement actions OCR has taken against health care providers and plans. Cognitive disorders and mental disabilities are frequently the basis of these actions. Additionally health care providers and health plans also can incur liability from private lawsuits for prohibited discrimination. In the light of growing awareness and enforcement of these disability discrimination prohibitions, health care providers should review and correct procedures to mitigate risks.

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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes.  As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.

Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.

Ms. Stamer’s clients include public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of 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, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2019. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


Year-End $3 Million HIPAA Settlement Pushes 2018 OCR HIPAA Recoveries Over $28 Million; Act Promptly To Strengthen Compliance & Share Ideas For Simplification

February 7, 2019

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouse and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) should reconfirm the adequacy of their organization’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) compliance in light the U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) February 7, 2019 announcement that OCR reached a 2018 year-end $3 Million Resolution Agreement with California-based Cottage Health that pushed OCR’s already record-setting 2018 enforcement HIPAA recoveries to more than $28.7 million in a year already distinguished by OCR’s record-setting $16 million resolution payment collection from Anthem.

Along with acting to ensure their own organization’s ability to defend their HIPAA compliance, Covered Entities and their leaders also should take advantage of the opportunity to provide input to OCR on opportunities for simplifying and improving OCR’s HIPAA regulations and enforcement by submitting relevant comments by February 12, 2019 in response to a Request for Information published by OCR in December that invites public input.

Learn more de

2018 Cottage Health Resolution Agreement

According to OCR’s February 7, 2019 announcement, Cottage Health agreed in OCR’s final settlement of 2017 to pay OCR $3 million and to adopt a substantial corrective action plan to settle charges of HIPAA violations resulting from OCR’s investigations into two HIPAA Breach notifications Cottage Health filed regarding breaches of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI) affecting over 62,500 individuals.

  • A December 2, 2013 breach notification that the removal of electronic security protections by a Cottage Health contractor rendered ePHI such as patient names, addresses, dates of birth, diagnoses/conditions, lab results and other treatment information of 33,349 individuals on a Cottage Health server accessible for download without a username or password from the internet to anyone outside Cottage Health.  In an update to its original report filed on July 2, 2014, Cottage Health increased the number of individuals affected by this breach to 50,917. OCR’s investigation determined that security configuration settings of the Windows operating system permitted access to files containing ePHI without requiring a username and password.  As a result, patient names, addresses, dates of birth, diagnoses, conditions, lab results and other treatment information were available to anyone with access to Cottage Health’s server.
  • A December 1, 2015, that the misconfiguration of a server following an IT response to a troubleshooting ticket, exposed unsecured ePHI including patient names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, diagnoses, conditions, and other treatment information of 11,608 individuals over the internet.

Based upon its investigation into the two breach reports, OCR concluded Cottage Health violated HIPAA by failing to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the ePHI; failed to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level; failed to perform periodic technical and non-technical evaluations in response to environmental or operational changes affecting the security of ePHI; and failed to obtain a written business associate agreement with a contractor that maintained ePHI on its behalf.

To resolve its exposure to potentially must greater civil monetary sanctions that OCR might seek for such potential violations under HIPAA’s civil monetary sanction rules, Cottage Health entered into December, 2018 Resolution Agreement to pay the $3 million settlement and undertake what OCR characterizes as “a robust corrective action plan to comply with the HIPAA Rules.” Among other things, the corrective action plan requires Cottage Health to:

  • Conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI held by Cottage Health (“Risk Analysis”) that OCR views as satisfactory to meet the requirements of 45 CFR 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • Develop and implement a risk management plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities identified in the Risk Analysis acceptable to OCR;
  • Implement a process for regularly evaluating environmental and operational changes that affect the security of Cottage Health’s  ePHI;
  • Develop, maintain, and revise, as necessary, written policies and procedures to comply with the Federal standards that govern the privacy and security of individually identifiable health information under 45 C.F.R. Part 160 and Subparts A, C, and E of Part 164 (the “Privacy Rule” and “Security Rule”).
  • Distribute to and conduct training on the HIPAA policies and procedures from all existing and new members of the Cottage Health workforce with access to PHI.  Additionally, Cottage Health require all workforce members that have access to PHI to certify their receipt of, understanding and commitment to comply with the HIPAA Policies before allowing access to PHI and must deny access to PHI to any workforce member that has not provided the required certification.
  • Submit to ongoing notification and reporting requirements to keep OCR informed about its compliance efforts.

2018 Record Setting HIPAA Enforcement Year

The final Resolution Agreement negotiated by OCR in 2018, the $3 million Cottage Health Resolution Agreement signed on December 11, 2018 added to an already record-setting year of HIPAA enforcement recoveries by OCR.  In addition to recovering the single largest individual HIPAA settlement in history of $16 million with Anthem, Inc.  OCR’s recovery of the following HIPAA settlements and fines totaling nearly $28.7 million surpassed its previous 2016 record of $23.5 million by 22 percent.

Date Name

Amount

Jan. 2018 Filefax, Inc (settlement) $      100,000
Jan. 2018 Fresenius Medical Care North America (settlement) $   3,500,000
June 2018 MD Anderson (judgment) $   4,348,000
Aug. 2018 Boston Medical Center (settlement) $      100,000
Sep. 2018 Brigham and Women’s Hospital (settlement) $      384,000
Sep. 2018 Massachusetts General Hospital (settlement) $      515,000
Sep. 2018 Advanced Care Hospitalists (settlement) $      500,000
Oct. 2018 Allergy Associates of Hartford (settlement) $      125,000
Oct. 2018 Anthem, Inc (settlement) $ 16,000,000
Nov. 2018 Pagosa Springs (settlement) $      111,400
Dec. 2018 Cottage Health (settlement) $   3,000,000
Total (settlements and judgment) $ 28,683,400

Aside from the previously discussed Cottage Health Resolution Agreement OCR announced on February 7, 2019, these OCR 2018 enforcement recoveries included:

  • FileFax Resolution Agreement.  In January 2018, OCR settled for $100,000 with Filefax, Inc., a medical records maintenance, storage, and delivery services provider.  OCR’s investigation found that Filefax impermissibly disclosed protected health information (PHI) by leaving the PHI in an unlocked truck in the Filefax parking lot, or by granting permission to an unauthorized person to remove the PHI from Filefax, and leaving the PHI unsecured outside the Filefax facility.
  • Fresenius Medical Care North America Resolution Agreement.  In January 2018, OCR also settled for $3.5 million with Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA), a provider of products and services for people with chronic kidney failure.  FMCNA filed five breach reports for separate incidents occurring between February 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012, implicating the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of five FMCNA owned covered entities.  OCR’s investigation revealed that FMCNA failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI.  Additional potential violations included failure to implement policies and procedures and failure to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.
  • MD Anderson ALJ Ruling.  In June 2018, an HHS Administrative Law Judge ruled in favor of OCR and required The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MD Anderson), a Texas cancer center, to pay $4.3 million in civil money penalties for HIPAA violations.  OCR investigated MD Anderson following three separate data breach reports in 2012 and 2013 involving the theft of an unencrypted laptop from the residence of an MD Anderson employee and the loss of two unencrypted universal serial bus (USB) thumb drives containing the unencrypted ePHI of over 33,500 individuals.  OCR’s investigation found that MD Anderson had written encryption policies going back to 2006 and that MD Anderson’s own risk analyses had found that the lack of device-level encryption posed a high risk to the security of ePHI. Despite the encryption policies and high risk findings, MD Anderson did not begin to adopt an enterprise-wide solution to encrypt ePHI until 2011, and even then it failed to encrypt its inventory of electronic devices containing ePHI between March 24, 2011 and January 25, 2013.  This matter is under appeal with the HHS Departmental Appeals Board.
  • MMC/BWH/MGH Resolution Agreements.  In September 2018, OCR announced that it has reached separate settlements totaling $999,000, with Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for compromising the privacy of patients’ PHI by inviting film crews on premises to film an ABC television network documentary series, without first obtaining authorization from patients.
  • ACH Resolution Agreement.  In September 2018, OCR also settled with Advanced Care Hospitalists (ACH), a contractor physician group, for $500,000.  ACH filed a breach report confirming that ACH patient information was viewable on a medical billing services’ website.  OCR’s investigation revealed that ACH never had a business associate agreement with the individual providing medical billing services to ACH, and failed to adopt any policy requiring business associate agreements until April 2014.  Although ACH had been in operation since 2005, it had not conducted a risk analysis or implemented security measures or any other written HIPAA policies or procedures before 2014.
  • Allergy Associates Resolution Agreement.  In October 2018, OCR settled with Allergy Associates, a health care practice that specializes in treating individuals with allergies, for $125,000.  In February 2015, a patient of Allergy Associates contacted a local television station to speak about a dispute that had occurred between the patient and an Allergy Associates’ doctor. OCR’s investigation found that the reporter subsequently contacted the doctor for comment and the doctor impermissibly disclosed the patient’s PHI to the reporter.
  • Anthem Resolution Agreement.  In October 2018, Anthem, Inc. also paid $16 million to OCR and agreed to take substantial corrective action to settle potential violations of the HIPAA Rules after a series of cyberattacks led to the largest U.S. health data breach in history.  Anthem filed a breach report after discovering cyber-attackers had gained access to their IT system via an undetected continuous and targeted cyberattack for the apparent purpose of extracting data, otherwise known as an advanced persistent threat attack.  After filing their breach report, Anthem discovered cyber-attackers had infiltrated their system through spear phishing emails sent to an Anthem subsidiary after at least one employee responded to the malicious email and opened the door to further attacks. OCR’s investigation revealed that between December 2, 2014 and January 27, 2015, the cyber-attackers stole the ePHI of almost 79 million individuals, including names, social security numbers, medical identification numbers, addresses, dates of birth, email addresses, and employment information.
  • Pegosa Springs Medical Center.  In November 2018, Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC), a critical access hospital, paid $111,400 to OCR to resolve potential violations concerning a former PSMC employee that continued to have remote access to PSMC’s web-based scheduling calendar, which contained patients’ ePHI, after separation of employment. OCR’s investigation revealed that PSMC impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 557 individuals to its former employee and to the web-based scheduling calendar vendor without a business associate agreement in place.

These 2018 Resolution Agreements reaffirm the growing risks that Covered Entities and their business associates run by failing to take adequate steps to prevent and respond to breaches of ePHI and otherwise to maintain their compliance with HIPAA.  Covered entities and business associates and their leaders should recognize and respond to these growing risks by reevaluating and strengthening their HIPAA compliance and risk management efforts to minimize the likelihood of violations and enhance their ability to mitigate potential liability that can result from breaches of HIPAA by responding efficiently and effectively.

Other Regulatory & Enforcement Developments

In addition to reaffirming their ongoing compliance with the longstanding requirements of HIPAA and other related federal and state laws, Covered Entities also should use care to carefully monitor and respond to new regulatory and other developments that might create new responsibilities or new opportunities to simplify their HIPAA compliance.  In this respect, Covered Entities should take note of the 2018 and ongoing efforts by OCR to develop and publish new rules and other guidance intended to help health care providers and other Covered Entities, patients and caregivers and others understand their rights and responsibilities when dealing with protected health information in relation to patients afflicted with substance abuse and mental illness.   Undertaken as part of the Trump Administration’s broader effort to combat opiate and other substance abuse within the United States, OCR in October published a package of guidance on How HIPAA Allows Doctors To Respond To The Opioid Crisis.  Covered Entities and others concerned with the management of patients afflicted with substance abuse and mental illness should evaluate this guidance to understand and tailor their practices to respond to OCR’s perspectives of how HIPAA impacts the use, access and disclosure of protected health information as part of these efforts.

Covered Entities and others concerned about HIPAA compliance and interpretation also should carefully monitor and provide appropriate and timely input on developing HIPAA guidance that could impact their operations.  In this regard, Covered Entities with ideas about opportunities for improving existing HIPAA guidance are encouraged to submit comments to OCR by February 12, 2019 in response to its Request for Information on improving care coordination and reducing the regulatory burdens of the HIPAA Rules  published on December 12, 2018.  In that RFI, OCR invites input from the public on how the HIPAA Privacy Rule, could be modified to:

  • Encourage information-sharing for treatment and care coordination;
  • Facilitate parental involvement in care;
  • Address the opioid crisis and serious mental illness;
  • Account for disclosures of PHI for treatment, payment, and health care operations as required by the HITECH Act;
  • Change the current requirement for certain providers to make a good faith effort to obtain an acknowledgment of receipt of the Notice of Privacy Practices; and/or
  • Otherwise simplify or improve the existing HIPAA rules.

As a part of these efforts, Covered Entities and other concerned parties also should anticipate that OCR will be focusing heavily in the upcoming year on the potential HIPAA privacy and security implications of efforts by its sister agency, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”), to promote greater interoperability of electronic medical records discussed in ONC’s recent 2018 Report to Congress: Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information (“Report”).

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave ONC authority to enhance innovation, scientific discovery, and expand the access and use of health information through provisions related to:

  • The development and use of upgraded health IT capabilities;
  • Transparent expectations for data sharing, including through open application programming interfaces (APIs); and
  • Improvement of the health IT end-user experience, including by reducing administrative burden.

These priorities seek to increase nationwide interoperability of health information and reduce clinician burden.  The Report says increases in the adoption of health IT means most Americans receiving health care services now have their health data recorded electronically. However, this information is not always accessible across systems and by all end users—such as patients, health care providers, and payers—in the market in productive ways.  While the Report states ONC intends to move forward to promote efforts to help ensure that electronic health information can be shared safely and securely where appropriate to improve the health and care of all Americans, these activities inherently will raise many HIPAA concerns and challenges.  Covered Entities and others concerned with these activities will want to carefully monitor the concurrent activities of OCR and ONC as these efforts progress, both to help tailor their planning and compliance efforts to respond to the anticipated demand for greater interoperability as required by ONC and to help shape these rules by providing timely input as appropriate in response to these developments.

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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes.  As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.

Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.

Ms. Stamer’s clients include public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

Author of leading works on a multitude of 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, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as:

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

©2019. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


ONC Report Signals New Interoperability Demands Coming

January 8, 2019

Interoperability will be a key priority for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) going forward.

That’s the message in the just released 2018 Report to Congress: Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information (“Report”).

The plan to promote interoperability raises new business and compliance planning opportunities for health care providers, health insurers and other payers, health data and information technology (IT) providers and others.

The Report describes barriers, actions taken, and recommendations as well as ONC’s path forward to implement the 21st Century Cures Act.

Under the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress gave HHS authority to enhance innovation, scientific discovery, and expand the access and use of health information through provisions related to:

  • The development and use of upgraded health IT capabilities;
  • Transparent expectations for data sharing, including through open application programming interfaces (APIs); and
  • Improvement of the health IT end user experience, including by reducing administrative burden.

These priorities seek to increase nationwide interoperability of health information and reduce clinician burden..

Current Status

The Report says increases in the adoption of health IT means most Americans receiving health care services now have their health data recorded electronically. However, this information is not always accessible across systems and by all end users—such as patients, health care providers, and payers—in the market in productive ways. For example:

  • Despite the individual right to access health information about themselves established by the HIPAA Privacy Rule, patients often lack access to their own health information, which hinders their ability to manage their health and shop for medical care at lower prices;
  • Health care providers often lack access to patient data at the point of care, particularly when multiple health care providers maintain different pieces of data, own different systems, or use health IT solutions purchased from different developers; and
  • Payers often lack access to clinical data on groups of covered individuals to assess the value of services provided to their customers.
  • The Report says these limitations create several problems, including:
    • Patients should be able to easily and securely access their medical data through their smartphones. Currently, patients electronically access their health information through patient portals that prevent them from easily pulling from multiple sources or health care providers. Patient access to their electronic health information also requires repeated use of logins and manual data updates.
    • For health care providers and payers, interoperable access and exchange of health records is focused on accessing one record at a time.
    • Payers cannot effectively represent their members if they lack computational visibility into which health care providers offer the highest quality care at the lowest cost. Without the capability to access multiple records across a population of patients, health care providers and payers will not benefit from the value of using modern computing solutions—such as machine learning and artificial intelligence—to inform care decisions and identify trends.
    • Payers and employer group health plans which purchase health care have little information on health outcomes. Often, health care providers and payers negotiate contracts based on the health care provider’s reputation rather than on the quality of care that health care provider offers to patients. Health care providers should instead compete based on the entire scope of the quality and value of care they provide, not on how exclusively they can craft their networks. Outcome data will allow payers to apply machine learning and artificial intelligence to have better insight into the value of the care they purchase.
  • Current Barriers
  • According to the Report, HHS heard from stakeholders over the past year that barriers to interoperable access to health information remain, including technical, financial, trust, and business practice barriers. These barriers impede the movement of health information to where it is needed across the care continuum. In addition, burden arising from quality reporting, documentation, administrative, and billing requirements that prescribe how health IT systems are designed also hamper the innovative usability of health IT.
  • Current and Upcoming Actions
  • The Report states HHS has many efforts to help ensure that electronic health information can be shared safely and securely where appropriate to improve the health and care of all Americans.
  • ONC also reports Federal agencies, states, and industry have taken steps to address technical, trust, and financial challenges to interoperable health information access, exchange, and use for patients, health care providers, and payers (including insurers). HHS aims to build on these successes through the ONC Health IT Certification Program, HHS rulemaking, health IT innovation projects, and health IT coordination.
  • In accordance with the Cures Act, HHS is actively leading and coordinating a number of key programs and projects. These include continued work to deter and penalize poor business practices and that HHS conducted multiple outreach efforts to engage the clinical community and health IT stakeholders to better understand these barriers, challenges, and health care provider burden.
  • Recommendations
  • The Report makes the following overarching recommendations for future actions HHS plans to support through its policies and that the health IT community as a whole can take to accelerate progress:
    • Focus on improving interoperability and upgrading technical capabilities of health IT, so patients can securely access, aggregate, and move their health information using their smartphones (or other devices) and health care providers can easily send, receive, and analyze patient data.
      Increase transparency in data sharing practices and strengthen technical capabilities of health IT so payers can access population-level clinical data to promote economic transparency and operational efficiency to lower the cost of care and administrative costs.
      Prioritize improving health IT and reducing documentation burden, time inefficiencies, and hassle for health care providers, so they can focus on their patients rather than their computers.

    The Report also says interoperable access underpins HHS’s efforts to pursue a health care system where data are available when and where needed.

    ONC intends to particularly focus on promoting open APIs. Open APIs are technology that allow one software program to access the services provided by another software program and can improve access and exchange of health information. ONC says APIs can:

    • Support patients’ ability to have more access to information electronically through, for example, smartphones and mobile applications. HHS applauds the emergence of patient-facing applications that allow patients to access, aggregate, and act on their health information; and
    • Allow payers to receive necessary and appropriate information on a group of members without having to access one record at a time.
    • Increase institutional accountability, support value- based care models, and lead to competitive medical care pricing that benefits patients.

    The Report claims patients, health care providers, and payers with appropriate access to health information can use modern computing solutions to generate value from the data. Improved interoperability can strengthen market competition, result in greater quality, safety, and value for the healthcare system, and enable patients, health care providers, and payers to experience the benefits of health IT.

    Prepare For Enhanced Operability Requirements

    ONC’s plan to achieve greater interoperability presents new business and compliance planning opportunities and challenges for health care providers, health insurers and other payers, health data and information technology (IT) providers and others. Among other things, participants in the healthcare system and their suppliers will need to prepare to comply with new expectations and mandates for interoperability. Meeting these demands will require financial expenditures as well as present technological challenges.The increased availability and access to electronica medical records and information resulting from these changes also a can be expected to drive new challenges and demands. Among other things, businesses relying on control of health information or records to influence or control patience, reimbursement, or other business value need to reevaluate and adjust their business models accordingly.

    Improve accessibility and interoperability also is likely to create new expectations and demands by patients, payers, other providers and perhaps most significantly for providers and payers, regulators. Participants in the system will need to understand these applications and prepare to both defend their business performance as well as their compliance taking into account these new demands.

    Amid all of this, of course, providers, pears, and their business associates can anticipate continued if not enhanced demands for enhanced data security and privacy protections and accompanying enforcement of these standards.

    As ONC move forward on its plans to enhance interoperability, all concerned stakeholders will want to monitor developments and provide thoughtful and timely input. The time to get started is now. ONC and it’s sister agency, the Office of Civil Rights currently are inviting public comments about how to achieve these and other health IT and privacy improvements. Those interested in providing input should make sure their comments are submitted by the applicable deadlines next month.

    Read the full Report here and share your input by the specified deadlines.

    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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health and employee benefit, health care, human resources and other staffing and workforce arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes.  As a continuous component of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked closely with these and other clients on the design, development, administration, defense, and breach and data recovery of health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, trade secret and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career.

    Scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues.

    Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

    A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

    Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

    Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

    Author of leading works on a multitude of 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, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

    ©2019. Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


    2/11/19 Deadline To Comment On Reducing HIPAA Regulatory Burden

    December 13, 2018

    February 12, 2019 is the deadline for health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, health care consumers, employer and other plan sponsors and fiduciaries, and other concerned persons to provide input on reducing the regulatory burdens of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules in response to the December 12, 2018 invitation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

    OCR issued the invitation for public comment in a December 12, 2019 Request for Information (RFI).  The RIF seeks input from the public on how OCR’s HIPAA Privacy and other Rules could be modified to further the HHS Secretary’s goal of promoting coordinated, value-based healthcare. This RFI is a part of the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, an initiative led by HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

    HHS developed the HIPAA Rules to protect individuals’ health information privacy and security interests, while permitting information sharing needed for important purposes. However, in recent years, OCR has heard calls to revisit aspects of the Rules that may limit or discourage information sharing needed for coordinated care or to facilitate the transformation to value-based health care. The RFI requests information on any provisions of the HIPAA Rules that may present obstacles to these goals without meaningfully contributing to the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI) and/or patients’ ability to exercise their rights with respect to their PHI.

    OCR’s December 12, 2018 press release concerning the RFI indicates that OCR is looking for candid feedback about how the existing HIPAA regulations are working in the real world and how OCR can improve them to improve quality of care and eliminate undue burdens on covered entities while maintaining robust privacy and security protections for individuals’ health information.

    In addition to requesting broad input on the HIPAA Rules, the RFI also seeks comments on specific areas of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, including:

    • Encouraging information-sharing for treatment and care coordination
    • Facilitating parental involvement in care
    • Addressing the opioid crisis and serious mental illness
    • Accounting for disclosures of PHI for treatment, payment, and health care operations as required by the HITECH Act
    • Changing the current requirement for certain providers to make a good faith effort to obtain an acknowledgment of receipt of the Notice of Privacy Practices

    Public comments on the RFI are due by February 11, 2019.

    The RFI follows up on OCR’s announcement of another series of high dollar resolution agreements against covered entities and business associates for alleged breaches of HIPAA’s Privacy or Security Rules, as well as publication of various new guidance intended to help patients, their families, covered entities, business associates and others understand when HIPAA restricts or allows the release of protected health information by covered entities and business associates in mass shooting or other disaster situations, when dealing with patients with substance abuse or mental health conditions and in various other scenarios.  Covered entities, their business associates as well as employer and other health plan sponsors, fiduciaries and others involved with protected health information transactions and disclosures should review this new guidance and evaluate its implications on their actions and practices in addition to sharing input with OCR about opportunities to improve existing HIPAA Rules.

    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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health care and health benefit arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes throughout her career.  In addition to her extensive provider and payer contracting work, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her knowledge, experience and leadership on health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

    A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

    Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer throughout her career regularly has worked with health care providers and payers, employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce managed care and other contracts, benefit plans and insurance arrangements, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors, supplier, and patient and member relations and requirements; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other 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; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, 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, HEDIS 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; 1557 and other Civil Rights; 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.

    Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

    Author of leading works on a multitude of 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, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

    ©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


    Allergy Practice $125,000 Settlement Reminds Health Care Providers, Other HIPAA Entities Of Press-Related HIPAA Risk

    November 27, 2018

    Physician practices and other health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (“Covered Entities”) and their business associates should learn from the costly schooling the Allergy Associates of Hartford, P.C. (“Allergy Associates”) is paying to settle charges that its physician violated the Privacy Rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) by commenting to a reporter on a patient complaint under a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“Resolution Agreement”) announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) yesterday (November 26, 2018).  The latest in a series of OCR HIPAA settlements arising from health care providers improperly discussing or disclosing protected health information (PHI) with the press or other media, the Resolution Agreement reminds health care providers and other HIPAA-Covered Entities and their business associates not to discuss or disclose PHI  with the media or others without first obtaining a HIPAA compliant authorization even to respond to accusations made by the patient or others.

    Allergy Associates HIPAA Complaint Charge & Resolution

    On November 26, 2018, OCR announced  that Allergy Associates, a three doctor health care practice that specializes in treating individuals with allergies at four locations across Connecticut, has agreed to pay OCR $125,000 and take corrective action under the Resolution Agreement to resolve charges that the comments a physician made to a reporter on a patient dispute with the practice in 2015 violated HIPAA.

    According to OCR, the disclosure of patient information that prompted OCR’s HIPAA charges resulted from a physician associated with the practice commenting to a local television station reporter doing on a story about a disabled patient’s complaint to the station that Allergy Associates turned her away from a scheduled appointment because of her use of a service animal.  After the patient contacted the television statement to complain about being turned away by the practice when accompanied by her service animal, the Resolution Agreement indicates that the station contacted the doctor for comment about the dispute between the Allergy Associates’ doctor and the patient.  Although OCR reports its investigation revealed that Allergy Associates’ Privacy Officer instructed the doctor to either not respond to the media or respond with “no comment,” the doctor nevertheless accepted the television station reporter’s invitation to comment and discussed the dispute with the reporter.

    The physician’s comments to the reporter were brought to the attention of OCR when OCR received a copy of an October 6, 2015, HHS civil rights complaint filed on behalf of the patient with the Department of Justice, Connecticut, U.S. Attorney’s Office (DOJ) by the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (OPA).  In response to this complaint, OCR initiated a joint investigation with DOJ into the civil rights allegations against Allergy Associates. The complaint also alleged that Allergy Associates impermissibly disclosed the patient’s PHI in violation of HIPAA.

    OCR found the physician’s discussion of the patient’s complaint without first obtaining a HIPAA-complaint authorization from the patient both violated HIPAA and demonstrated a reckless disregard for the patient’s HIPAA privacy rights.  Additionally, Resolution Agreement also states that OCR’s investigation revealed that Allergy Associates did not take any disciplinary or other corrective action against the doctor after learning of his impermissible disclosure to the media.

    To resolve the HIPAA charges, Allergy Associates agrees in the Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan to pay $125,000 as well as to undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring their compliance with the HIPAA Rules.

    Other Providers Also Paid High Price To OCR For Sharing PHI With Media

    Of course, OCR enforcement action against and Resolution Agreement with Allergy Associates is just one of several reported OCR actions against health care providers for improperly disclosing or allowing the press or other media access to PHI without patient authorization.

    For instance, a Resolution Agreement announced by OCR on June 14, 2013 required Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) to pay OCR $275,000 and implement a series of corrective actions for using and disclosing to the media PHI of a patient while trying to perform public relations damage control against accusations reported in the media that SRMC had engaged in fraud or other misconduct when dealing with the patient.   That Resolution Agreement resulted from OCR investigating a January 4, 2012 Los Angeles Times article report that two SRMC senior leaders had met with media to discuss medical services provided to a patient.  OCR’s investigation indicated that SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s PHI from impermissible disclosure by intentionally disclosing PHI to multiple media outlets on at least three separate occasions, without a valid written authorization. OCR’s review also revealed senior management at SRMC impermissibly shared details about the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment in an email to the entire workforce.  Further, SRMC failed to sanction its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s records pursuant to its internal sanctions policy.

    The sanctions were even greater in the May 10, 2017 Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan OCR announced with the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS) for issuing a press release with the name and other PHI  about a patient arrested and charged with presenting an allegedly fraudulent identification card to MHHS office staff to fraudulently obtain care without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from the patient. MHHS paid OCR a $2.4 million resolution payment to resolve HIPAA charges OCR brought against MHHS as well as agreed to implement a detailed corrective action plan.  See $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI.

    The costs of resolution have been even higher when OCR has addressed disclosures to media made by health care providers or other Covered Entities that allowed their desire for media publicity and coverage of their organizations ahead of patient privacy.  For instance, OCR collected a $2.2 million resolution payment from New York Presbyterian Hospital (NYP) for allowing unauthorized filming and photographing of patients in its facility by a television film crew and other staff filming for the television program “NY Med”  in the hospital.  See $2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use.

    Furthermore, earlier this year OCR collected a total of $999,0000 from Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)(collectively, the “Hospitals”) for putting publicity before patient privacy by allowing ABC News documentary film crews to film patients and access other patient information for a news documentary without obtaining prior patient authorization under three settlement agreements with the Hospitals announced by OCR in September, 2018.  The payments were made under three separate settlement agreements between OCR and each respective Hospital made public by OCR in connection with the September 20, 2018 announcement stemming from the Hospital’s allowing ABC film crews to film in patient treatment and other areas for  the ABC medical documentary “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” series.  See $999K Price Hospitals Pay To Settle HIPAA Privacy Charges From Allowing ABC To Film Patients Without Authorization.

    OCR’s concern about and intolerance for improper disclosures of PHI to the media by health care providers and other Covered Entities is further demonstrated by OCR’s publication of  its 2016 Frequently Asked Question (Media FAQ) addressing Covered Entities’ responsibilities when dealing with the media coincident with OCR’s announcement of its Resolution Agreement with NYP in 2016.   The Allergy Associates’ Resolution Agreement further reinforces OCR’s continuing commitment to hold health care providers and other Covered Entities and their business associates accountable for complying with HIPAA when dealing with the press and other media.  In the fact of this commitment, health care providers and other Covered Entities must take the necessary steps to implement the appropriate policies, training and controls to ensure that they and their staff and representatives comply with these directives when dealing with press and other media.

    Resolution Agreement Also Highlights Need For Sensitivity When Dealing With Disabled Patients With Service Animals

    Beyond the HIPAA charges and settlement discussed in the Resolution Agreement, health care providers and other Covered Entities also should heed the factual circumstances that prompted the television interview of the Allergy Associates’ physician that prompted the OCR HIPAA enforcement action as a precautionary warning to ensure that their policies, procedures and staff training for dealing with disabled patients supported by service animals are defensible legally and in the court of public opinion.

    The Allergy Associates Resolution Agreement states that OCR’s HIPAA investigation was conducted in response to and in tandem with a Department of Justice (“Justice Department”) Office of Civil Rights investigation of a complaint that Allergy Associates violated the patient’s civil rights by improperly refusing to allow the patient’s service animal to accompany the patient during the patient’s appointment.  The patient’s complaint about the practice that the television reporter asked for and obtained the comments from the Allergy Associates’ physician that OCR found violated HIPAA related to Allergy Associates refusing to allow the patient to be accompanied by her service animal during her appointment with Allergy Associates.

    While research as of the date of the publication of this article did not uncover any published record of any Justice Department prosecution or settlement or other official notification concerning the Justice Department civil rights investigation against Allergy Associates, the Justice Department Office of Civil Rights as well as the HHS OCR Civil Rights Division have in the past pursued enforcement action against health care providers and others for improperly restricting or denying access to care or facilities by disabled persons based on their accompaniment by service animals.

    Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) generally prohibits places of public accommodations, including the professional office of a health care provider, from discriminating against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation, by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation, including health care services. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a); 28 C.F.R. § 36.201. The ADA also requires that such entities make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of service animals by people with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(ii); 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(c).  Health care providers also generally are prohibited from discriminating against and required to provide accommodation to individuals with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act and the Medicare statutes.

    The Justice Department, HHS and courts have interpreted these disability prohibition and accommodation laws as making it illegal for a health care provider or its agent to fail to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a service animal unless the health care provider proves (1) the accommodations would fundamentally alter the nature of the facility or service it provides; or (2) based upon an individual assessment, the hospital determines that the service animal poses a substantial and direct threat to health or safety which cannot be mitigated by reasonable accommodations.  See, e.g., Tamara v. El Comino Hospital, 964 F.Supp.2d 1077 (N.D.Ca. 2013).

    While other types of discriminatory actions by health care providers found to be in violation of these rules often trigger substantial damage awards, administrative penalties, disqualification or restriction of Medicare and other federal program participation for violation of Conditions of Participation, to date the reported agency and judicial enforcement actions brought against health care providers for improperly refusing to allow service animals to accompany patients when accessing facilities or receiving care generally have ordered injunctive or other corrective action but have not imposed substantial damage or administrative penalties upon the culpable provider.  Health care providers should avoid the temptation to underestimate the potential seriousness or liability that their organization is likely to incur based on the current lack of substantial financial damage awards or administrative sanctions, however.  The 11th Circuit’s ruling in Sheely v. MRI Radiology Network, P.A., 505 F.3d 1173 (11th Cir. 2007), that noneconomic compensatory damages were available as a remedy for the emotional distressed caused by the violation under the Rehabilitation Act and that the voluntary correction of its policies during the pendency of the litigation did not render moot Sheely’s claim for monetary relief clearly opens the door for a jury to award substantial damages against a health care provider when the jury perceives the circumstances warrant.   Furthermore, health care providers need to keep in mind the typically financial and operational burdens of defending litigation or a Justice Department or HHS OCR Civil Rights investigation and costs of implementation and compliance with administrative or injunctive orders to take corrective action as well as the negative public relations attend these types of complaints, their investigation and resolution. Moreover, health care providers participating in Medicare, Medicaid or other federal health care programs also need to take into account the possibility that an alleged violation of these nondiscrimination rules also can serve as a basis for investigation of compliance with applicable Conditions of Participation for program participation and reimbursement.  Considering these risks, physician and other health care providers should heed the reminder of their obligations to offer and provide proper accommodation to allow appropriate access to disabled individuals with disabilities  requiring service animal support and take steps to review and update their policies, practices and staff training to minimize the risk of potential charges of violation of these requirements.

    Health Care Providers, Other Covered Entities Encouraged To Act To Manage HIPAA & Disability Accommodation Risks

    The Allergy Associates and other HIPAA Resolution Agreements arising from improper sharing of PHI with the press or other media make clear the need for health care providers and other Covered Entities to exercise great care when dealing with the press and other media.

    Clearly, health care providers and other Covered Entities should heed the warning by conducting a risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to potential improper disclosures to media or others and reviewing and implementing necessary written policies, procedures and training to prevent the improper disclosure of patient PHI to media or others unless the Covered Entity either secures prior HIPAA-compliant authorization from the patient or can prove the disclosure falls squarely under an exception to the Privacy Rule’s prohibition against disclosure of PHI without authorization except as allowed by the Privacy Rule.

    Based on experiences reported in the Allergy Associates and other Resolution Agreements and OCR guidance concerning media disclosures, Covered Entities also generally will want to ensure that their policies, procedures and training extend to all potential sources of communications that could involve patient information and make clear that the Privacy Rule restrictions must be followed even if the circumstances involve allegations of misconduct, special performance by healthcare providers or others that it would benefit the organization or certain individuals to have known to the public, or other circumstances likely to be of interest to the media or other parties.

    As part of this process, health care providers and other Covered Entities should ensure they look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that appropriate management, supervision, training and direction is provided to address media, practice transition, workforce communication and other policies and practices that may be covered by pre-existing or other policies of other departments or operational elements not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer such as media relations. Media relations, physician and patients affairs, outside legal counsel, media relations, marketing and other internal and external departments and consultants dealing with the media, the public or other inquiries or disputes should carefully include and coordinate with the privacy officer both to ensure appropriate policies and procedures are followed and proper documentation created and retained to show authorization, account, or meet other requirements.

    In conducting this analysis and risk assessment, it also is important that Covered Entities include, but also look beyond the four corners of their Privacy Policies to ensure that their review and risk assessment identifies and assesses and addresses compliance risks on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

    For this reason, Covered Entities also generally will not only to adopt and implement specific policies, processes and training in these other departments to prohibit and prevent inappropriate disclosures of PHI in the course of those departments operations. As part of these processes, Covered Entities generally will want to implement a  pre-established process for reviewing media or other communications for potential PHI content which includes a requirement for  prior review of any proposed public relations and other internal or external communications containing patient PHI or other information by the privacy officer, legal counsel or another suitably qualified party.

    Because of the high risk that the preparation or review of media or other public communications reports will involve the use and disclosure of PHI, Covered Entities also generally should verify that all outside media or public relations, legal, or other outside service providers participating in the investigation, response or preparation or review of communications to the media or others both are covered by signed business associate agreements that fulfill the Privacy Rule and other requirements of HIPAA as well as possess detailed knowledge and understanding of the Privacy and Security Rules suitable to participate in and help safeguard the Covered Entity against violations of these and other Privacy Rules. See e.g., Latest HIPAA Resolution Agreement Drives Home Importance Of Maintaining Current, Signed Business Associate Agreements.

    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 managed care and other health industry, health and other benefit and insurance, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has been continuously involved the design, regulation, administration and defense of managed care and other health care and health benefit arrangements, contracts, systems, and processes throughout her career.  In addition to her extensive provider and payer contracting work, Ms. Stamer also is recognized for her knowledge, experience and leadership on health benefit, health care, health, financial and other information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations throughout her career, and scribe of the ABA JCEB annual Office of Civil Rights agency meeting, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employers and other workforce management organizations; employer, union, association, government and other insured and self-insured health and other employee benefit plan sponsors, benefit plans, fiduciaries, administrators, and other plan vendors;  managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers and their management; public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long-term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, health care accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, third-party administrative services organizations and other payer organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; claims, billing and other health care and insurance technology and data service organizations; other health, employee benefit, insurance and financial services product and solutions consultants, developers and vendors; and other health, employee benefit, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

    A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career. Her public policy and regulatory affairs experience encompasses advising and representing domestic and multinational private sector health, insurance, employee benefit, employer, staffing and other outsourced service providers, and other clients in dealings with Congress, state legislatures, and federal, state and local regulators and government entities, as well as providing advice and input to U.S. and foreign government leaders on these and other policy concerns.

    Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design, implement, document, administer and defend workforce, employee benefit, insurance and risk management, health and safety, and other programs, products and solutions, and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Ms. Stamer’s experience in these matters includes supporting these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis with crisis preparedness, intervention and response as well as consulting and representing clients on ongoing compliance and risk management; plan and program design; vendor and employee credentialing, selection, contracting, performance management and other dealings; strategic planning; policy, program, product and services development and innovation; mergers, acquisitions, and change management; workforce and operations management, and other opportunities and challenges arising in the course of their operations.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer throughout her career regularly has worked with health care providers and payers, employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce managed care and other contracts, benefit plans and insurance arrangements, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors, supplier, and patient and member relations and requirements; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other 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; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, 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, HEDIS 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; 1557 and other Civil Rights; 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.

    Ms. Stamer also has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending plan sponsors, administrators, insurance and managed care organizations, health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions. Scribe for the ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with HHS OCR, she also has worked extensively on health and health benefit coding, billing and claims, meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical, workforce, consumer financial and other data confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security, data breach and mitigation, and other information privacy and data security concerns.

    Author of leading works on a multitude of 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, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, 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, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about contracting, credentialing and quality assurance,  compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, and other risk management and operational matters. Author of works on Payer and Provider Contracting and many other managed care concerns, Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on these and other related concerns by her service in the leadership of the Solutions Law Press, Inc. Coalition for Responsible Health Policy, its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, and a broad range of other professional and civic organizations including North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, a founding Board Member and past President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, past Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children (now Warren Center For Children); current Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current Vice Chair of Policy for the Life Sciences Committee of the ABA International Section, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, a current Defined Contribution Plan Committee Co-Chair, former Group Chair and Co-Chair of the ABA RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, past Representative and chair of various committees of ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits; an ABA Health Law Coordinating Council representative, former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division, past Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association and others.

    For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here such as:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

    ©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


    Oklahoma Nursing Home Settles HHS HIV Discrimination Charges

    September 8, 2017

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Heritage Hills Living & Rehabilitation Center, LLC (Heritage Hills) that resolves a HHS complaint alleging that Heritage Hills discharged a seriously ill patient from its facility upon learning that she was HIV positive and in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.  Part of HHS’ expanding  civil rights enforcement emphasis, the resolution agreement reminds health care providers and others receiving or providing services funded by programs managed by HHS of their growing exposure to civil rights prosecutions and liability for failing to comply with federal civil rights law nondiscrimination rules.

    Heritage Hills is a for-profit, 81-bed, certified skilled nursing facility located in the City of McAlester, in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. Because Heritage Hills receives Federal financial assistance through its participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it is subject to the requirements of Section 504 and Section 1557.

    Heritage Hills agreed to resolve the complaint after OCR initiated an investigation into whether Heritage Hills discriminated against the complainant’s daughter on the basis of the daughter’s disability (HIV/AIDS) in violation of Section 504 and Section 1557.

    Under the Resolution Agreement, Heritage Hills agrees to:

    • Ensure compliance with Section 504 and Section 1557;
    • Report admissions and discharge data to OCR for a 12 month period;
    • Appoint a Civil Rights Coordinator;
    • Publish and post a new non-discrimination policy;
    • Iimplement a new patient grievance procedure and inform patients of their right to file complaints with OCR;
    • Rrequire its staff to receive training on HIV/AIDS and Federal non-discrimination obligations; and
    • Rrevise its admissions policy to ensure that all individuals with disabilities, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, are provided equal access to and an equal opportunity to participate in all programs, benefits and services offered by the facility.

    The HHS enforcement action reminds health care providers about the importance of properly managing their civil rights compliance. During the last five years, OCR has engaged in more than 200 enforcement and outreach efforts involving HIV/AIDS, including public education campaigns, HIV-related civil rights complaint investigations, HIV-related health information privacy investigations and 12 joint civil rights/health information privacy compliance reviews, which were the subject of OCR’s report, Protecting the Civil Rights and Health Information Privacy of People Living with HIV/AIDS. The report is available here.

    Of particular note, OCR has launched an Information is Powerful Medicine public education campaign, which encourages those living with HIV to be proactive in their health care. The campaign explains individuals’ health information privacy rights, including how individuals can monitor and access a copy of their medical records.

    OCR’s enforcement in this and other HIV discrimination actions is part a broader nondiscrimination and civil rights enforcement initiative under Section 1551 and other federal laws which has resulted in a growing list of multi-million dollar settlements from health care providers, state and local government agencies and others receiving federal funding from programs managed by the Department of Health & Human Services.  See here. Health care providers should verify their policies and operations comply with these civil rights nondiscrimination rules.

    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. Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes more than 20 years of experience advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disability and other civil rights discrimination law compliance and risk management.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here.   If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

    ©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


    Civil Rights Settlement Highlights Health Industry Discrimination Risks As OCR Prepares To Broaden Requirements

    October 27, 2015

    Doctors’ Center Hospital, Inc.  (DCI) in the latest health care providers nailed in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforcement action for allegedly violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) by failing to provide auxiliary aids and services for deaf and hard of hearing patients under OCR’s ongoing aggressive campaigned on enforcing federal discrimination laws against health care providers and others covered by its regulations.  OCR’s announcement of the Voluntary Compliance Resolution Agreement with DCI (Agreement) announced today (October 27, 2015) comes with the November 6, 2015 deadline for health care providers and other concerned parties to comment on proposed OCR regulations on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities, implementing the federal prohibition against sex discrimination in health programs and activities enacted under Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and tightening other nondiscrimination requirements that generally apply to health care providers and others covered by OCR’s civil rights rules (covered entities) and various other programs and activities administered by OCR. Health care providers and others covered by these rules should provide meaningful input on the proposed rules even as they work to tighten their compliance and risk management practices to mitigate their exposures.

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (collectively the “Civil Rights Laws”) together require hospitals, health care providers, clinics, medical practices and other entities who receive Federal financial assistance to provide services to persons with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner.  As construed by OCR with respect to deaf and hearing impaired individuals and their caregivers, these laws require health care providers offer services or aids need to ensure effective communication in light of the abilities of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, the primary method used by the individual to communicate and the complexity and nature of the information being conveyed. Failure to ensure effective communication in such health care settings may lead to misinformation, inappropriate diagnosis and/or delayed or improper medical treatments.

    DCI  Discrimination Charge Settlement

    The latest in a growing series of Civil Rights Law enforcement actions of these laws against health care providers by OCR, the Agreement announced October 27, 2015 resolves OCR charges stemming from a discrimination complaint made to OCR by an family that charged that one DCI facility, Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc. violated Section 504 by failing to provide a sign language interpreter necessary to ensure effective communication during their 10 month old child’s five day hospitalization. OCR investigated the complaint under Section 504, which prohibits covered entities that receive Federal financial assistance from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.

    While the complaint that resulted in the OCR charges only specifically named its Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc., at DCI’s request, the Agreement includes all of DCI facilities in Puerto Rico, which collectively serve an estimated 109,000 patients a year in the San Juan area as well as the northern part of the island of Puerto Rico.  Under the Agreement, DCI, Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc. and the Doctors’ Center Hospital Bayamón, Inc. to resolve the complaint agree to take several actions to improve access to appropriate communication services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals including revising its policies and procedures, performing an assessment of the communication needs for deaf and hard of hearing patients and their companions, providing appropriate auxiliary aids and services at no cost, adopting and posting a Notice of Nondiscrimination, creating a Section 504 Grievance Procedure, appointing a Section 504 Coordinator and training all staff on the revised policies and procedures. Read the full Agreement here.

    Health Industry’s Already High Civil Rights Enforcement Risks Set To Rise

    The DCI Agreement highlights the already significant exposure that health care providers face under OCR’s current Civil Rights Law enforcement practices and comes as OCR is preparing to broaden and expand its existing Civil Rights regulations by adopting proposed changes to its regulations on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities. The deadline for comment on those proposed regulations is November 6, 2015.

    Even before it adopts these proposed changes, health care providers already face significant Civil Rights discrimination risks.  OCR already aggressively investigates and enforces federal Civil Rights Law prohibitions against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, age and sex against covered entities as part of the Obama Administration’s broader civil rights agenda. See. e.g., Health Care Employer’s Discrimination Triggers Medicare, EEOC Prosecutions; Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled; OCR Settlements Show Health Care & Disabled Housing Providers Face Growing Disability Discrimination Risks. Given the often multimillion dollar penalties and other heavy sanctions that OCR already regularly imposes against a long and ever-growing list of state and other health care, child care, elder care, insurance and other entities for violating its Civil Rights Laws, health care providers and other providers, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage and other insurers, and other covered entities generally will want both to carefully review and comment as appropriate on the proposed rules, as well as review and tighten as advisable their existing practices to reduce the risk of being sanctioned, excluded or both for violation of these nondiscrimination and other civil rights requirements by OCR. In this respect, covered entities will want both to evaluate their risks and responsibilities under the specific rules about Section 1557’s sex discrimination prohibits, as well as changes that more broadly affect the interpretation and enforcement of the nondiscrimination rules enforced by OCR generally.

    The author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., an attorney practicing as the co-managing member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, health policy advocate and industry thought leader, has focused on helping health industry and other organizations and their management understand and use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk including significant work with compliance with OCR and other regulatory requirements.

    Scribe responsible for leading the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) annual agency meeting with HHS Office of Civil Rights for five years, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years’ experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

    Ms. Stamer’s experience includes advising and defending hospitals, nursing home, home health, physicians and other health care professionals, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and programs in response under CMS, OCR, HHS, FDA, IRS, DOJ, DEA, NIH, licensing, and other regulations; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to Board of Medicine, OIG, DOJ, DEA, DOD, DOL, Department of Health, Department of Aging & Disability, IRS, Department of Insurance, and other federal and state regulators; ERISA and private insurance, prompt pay and other reimbursement and contracting; peer review and other quality concerns; and other health care industry investigation, and enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her regulatory and public policy advocacy, publications, and public speaking on privacy and other compliance, risk management concerns. Her insights on privacy, data security, and other matters have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, and a host of other publications. She speaks and 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, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

    Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

    Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer serves on the steering committee and as a faculty member of the Southern California ISSA-HIMMS Annual Security Summit and Chaired its 2015 3rd Annual Health Care Privacy Summit.  Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.  She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, or the website Stamer ׀ Chadwick ׀ Soefje PLLC.  To contact Ms. Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone (469) 767-8872.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of Ms. Stamer’s publications our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources such as:


    Former National Quality Forum Committee Co-Chair Pays $1M, Excluded From Medicare In Fraud Settlement

    March 5, 2015

    A former National Quality Forum Committee Safe Practices Co-Chair landed in hot water under the False Claims Act for receiving compensation to use his influence and position to influence safety practices standards.  Patient safety consultant Dr. Charles Denham, will pay $1 million to settle Justice Department allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by soliciting and accepting kickbacks while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee 2009 and 2010, according to a Justice Department announcement.   The consulting company Health Care Concepts Inc. and the research organization Texas Medical Institute of Technology, operated by Denham both also are parties to the settlement.

    With physicians and other health care organizations increasingly stepping up involvement in credentialing organizations and government advisory and other task forces, the enforcement action highlights another area where health care organizations and their people need to be careful to avoid violations of the False Claims Act or other laws. The settlement illustrates both the need for health care providers participating in HHS or other government advisory or other consulting roles to carefully evaluate their compensation and other arrangements for  illegal remuneration or other prohibited elements in light of the continuing emphasis on and success of the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Justice in investigating and prosecuting arrangements they view as health care fraud under the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative announced in 2009.

    The charges against Denham resolved by the settlement stem from payments he and his companies received while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee.  The Safe Practices Committee reviews, endorses and recommends standardized healthcare performance measures and practices.  The settlement resolves allegations that, under agreements entered into in 2008, Denham received monthly payments from CareFusion Corporation while serving as the co-chair of the Safe Practices Committee.  The Justice Department charged that Denham did not disclose to the committee, or any other individual or component of the National Quality Forum, that he was receiving payments from CareFusion while co-chairing the Committee and that Denham solicited and received these payments in exchange for influencing the recommendations of the National Quality Forum and for recommending, promoting and/or arranging for the purchase of CareFusion’s product, ChloraPrep, in violation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute.  The United States alleged that this conduct caused the submission of false or fraudulent claims for ChloraPrep to federal health care programs.

    In addition to paying $1 million to the United States, Dr. Denham and his two businesses will be excluded from Medicare, Medicaid and all federal health programs as part of the settlement.

    The settlement highlights another example of the widespread success HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies participating in the HEAT initiative in using the False Claims Act against doctors, hospitals and other health care providers and organizations.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department reports recovery of more than $23.8 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.   With HHS and the Justice Department claiming it recovers an average return of $8 for each $1 invested in health care fraud enforcement, the enforcement initiative is a key player in Federal efforts to control and reduce federal health care expenditures.  The Obama Administration tout the  success of these efforts to fuel Congressional and public support for continuation and expansion of these and other health care fraud enforcement efforts by HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies.

    “Kickback schemes undermine the integrity of medical decisions, subvert the health marketplace and waste taxpayer dollars,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Doctors and other health care professionals who accept illegal inducements undermine the public’s trust in federal health care programs and will continue to be the focus of our enforcement efforts

    Given the success of the programs and the HEAT agencies commitment to continuing their heavy-handed enforcement efforts, physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing, home health, durable medical equipment, and other health care providers and their leaders should stay ever diligent in their efforts to maintain compliance and other necessary defenses in anticipation of government scrutiny of their operations and activities.  As part of these efforts, health care providers and organizations serving on advisory task forces or committees to government agencies or to credentialing or standard settling organizations that provide input on regulatory, standard setting or other activities need to use special care to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are properly identified and disclosed and that the arrangements otherwise are structured and conducted to avoid violations of both the Anti-Kickback and other health care fraud laws and lobbying, conflict of interest and other laws, regulations and policies applicable to those activities.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

    About Solutions Law Press

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

    Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    State Exchange Problems Added ACA Threat Regardless of SCOTUS Decision In King v. Burwell

    March 3, 2015

    While most Americans are familiar with the well-publicized issues and higher than projected premium costs of coverage offered to Americans enrolling in health care coverage through the federal healthcare marketplace Healthcare.gov created under the health care reforms of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), many Americans are just beginning to recognize the growing problems and concerns emerging with state exchanges in those states that elected to enact their own exchange.  As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the challenge to the payment of ACA subsidies to individuals in states that elected not to adopt a state-run health care exchangeto pay for coverage purchased through the federal healthcare.gov marketplace in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the growing evidence of rapidly emerging funding and other challenges affecting state-run exchanges raise concerns about the solvency and reliability of coverage promised and purchased through those state-run exchanges.  These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.

    During the Congressional debates leading up to the enactment of ACA, for instance, ACA advocates touted the Massachusetts health care mandates and reform law of Massachusetts as part of the model for ACA and evidence of the potential benefits offered by enactment of ACA.  Now Massachusetts officials are blaming ACA for serious underfunding and other problems in their state’s health care connector.

    Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently cited the Health Connector and its challenges in enrolling Massachusetts residents in health insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act that forced the state to temporarily transition hundreds of thousands of state residents into the commonwealth’s Medicaid program as a primary reason for the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget deficit.  He now has asked for the resignations of four Massachusetts Health Connector board members:  MIT professor Jonathan Gruber,  Covered California actuarial consultant John Bertko; Massachusetts Nonprofit Network CEO Rick Jakious and Spring Insurance Group CEO George Conser.

    The Massachusetts experience is not unique.  Other states also are experiencing significant funding and other problems dealing with the ACA mandates and implementation.  See, e.g.,  Funding Woes Imperil Future of State Run Exchanges;  State Insurance Exchanges Face Challenges In Offering Standardized Choices Alongside Innovative Value-Based Insurance.

    This mounting evidence of serious cost, financing and other concerns in state-run exchanges creates new reason for concern about the future of ACA’s health care reforms even for those citizens of states whose eligibility for subsidies is not challenged by the King v. Burwell Supreme Court challenge.   These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.These and other budget overruns and operational challenges raise serious questions about the ability of the federal government or the states to fund the promises currently made by ACA in its present form.  Congress and state governments almost certainly will be forced to deal with these broader challenges regardless of the outcome of King v. Burwell.   As American leaders continue to struggle to deal with these and other mounting problems impacting the U.S. health care system, the input of individual Americans and businesses and community leaders is more critical than ever.  Get involved in helping to shape improvements and solutions to the U.S. health care system and the Americans it cares for by sharing your ideas and input through the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy  and exchanging information and ideas for helping American families deal with their family member’s illnesses, disabilities and other healthcare challenges through Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

    About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment &  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

    Do you have ideas or experiences to share about medical debit, ACA or other health care challenges?  Have ideas for helping improve ACA and other health care policies impacting the US health care system, helping Americans cope with these and other health care challenges or other health care matters? Know other helpful resources or experiences that you are willing to share?  Are you concerned about health care coverage or other health care and disability issues or policy concerns?  Join the discussion and share your input by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

    Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of

    The Coalition and its Project COPE arise and operate on the belief that health care reform and policy must be patient focused, patient centric and patient empowering.  The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can. Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

    The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

    We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

    You also may be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here such as:

     You also can find out about how you can arrange for training for you, your employees or other communities to participate in training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include employers and their health and other employee benefit plans,  public and private health care providers, health insurers, plan fiduciaries and service providers, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

    About Solutions Law Press

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

    Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    Health Care Employer’s Discrimination Triggers Medicare, EEOC Prosecutions

    March 2, 2015

    Health care employers and organizations should review and tighten their employment and other discrimination policies and risk management in light of recent employment discrimination enforcement actions targeting health care organization staffing decisions by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    OCR Race Discrimination Medicare Action

    A new OCR Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Shiawassee County Medical Facility reminds health care providers of the frequently underappreciated Medicare/Medicaid program participation risks of certain types of employment discrimination to be careful not to allow patient preferences to lead them into the trap of violating the prohibition against race, color, and national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other federal nondiscrimination laws when making patient staffing assignments.

    Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the administration of any federally-funded program based on race, color, or national origin.   OCR’s longstanding “Guidelines for Compliance of Hospitals with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” make clear that OCR interprets Title VI prohibits assignment of hospital staff based on the racial preference of the patient.

    A newly announced OCR investigation and Resolution Agreement Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, illustrates the need for Medicare and Medicaid certified health care providers of all types to ensure their compliance with Title VI and, in particular, to refrain from making any staff assignments based on racial considerations.

    The Resolution Agreement between OCR and Shiawassee, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, resolved charges that the facility violated Title VI by giving a nursing staff instruction to not assign African-American staff to a Caucasian Resident. Based on an investigation, OCR found Shiawassee needed to change its policies and procedures to bring them into full compliance with Title VI.  To implement fully the prohibition against consideration of race in staff assignments, Shiawassee signed a with OCR which calls for the appointment of a Title VI Coordinator to oversee Shiawassee’s overall compliance with Title VI including special responsibilities for the investigation and adjudication of any Title VI complaints filed internally with Shiawassee.  In addition, Shiawassee must train its workforce on Title VI, and submit reports to OCR regarding compliance.

    The Shiawassee charges and Resolution agreement follow a similar Agreement in August 2014 between OCR and Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan , which also resolved OCR charges arising from that facilities staff assignment based on a patient’s racial preference.  Read the Hurley Agreement here.

    Phoenix EEOC ADA Discrimination Action

    The HHS against Shiawassee enforcement action coincides with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announcement of its filing of disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) against another health care provider, ValleyLife of Phoenix, Arizona. EEOC charges that ValleyLife engaged in illegal disability discrimination in violation of the ADA when it allegedly fired employees with disabilities instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations when their eligibility for family leave ended under the Family & Medical Leave Act ended and allegedly failed to keep employees’ medical records confidential.  See EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS (N.Az).

    In EEOC v. ValleyLife,  the EEOC charges that ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy.  The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).   According to the EEOC, ValleyLife fired supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave eligibility ended.  EEOC claims this termination violated the ADA because ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible.  Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination.  The EEOC contends that ValleyLife’s failure to offer extended leave or other accommodation to Stephens when his leave eligibility ended violated the ADA, which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.

    The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the medical record confidentiality requirements of the ADA, which requires employees’ to keep medical documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.

    The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensa­tory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.

    Prepare Employment Discrimination Defenses

    The OCR action against Shiawassee and the EEOC suit against ValleyLife remind health industry employers of the need to use care to monitor and manage employment discrimination risks.  Health care organizations should avoid the temptation to assume that their organizations can rely upon patient preferences or other common industry concerns to defend against claims of disability, race or other discrimination.  Instead, health care organizations should review and update their policies and practices to ensure that they properly comply with applicable employment and other federal and state disability discrimination law and are operationalized in a manner to create and keep appropriate documentation to defend staffing decisions against potential claims of illegal discrimination under the ADA, Civil Rights, or other laws that could adversely impact their organization’s eligibility to participate in Medicare, Medicaid or other federal programs, trigger judgments or penalties, or both.

    Health care organizations also need to exercise care to ensure that their patient access, care and other policies also comply and are administered to withstand scrutiny under Medicare terms of participation, the ADA, the Civil Rights Act and other federal discrimination laws.   These health industry employers should both evaluate their existing policies and practices, as well as their processes for conducting and documenting investigations and other activities associated with the administration of FMLA or other disability accommodation, patient and other staffing and other activities to position their organization to identify potential exposures and position themselves to defend their decisions against OCR, EEOC or other government agency investigations, private plaintiff claims or both.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

    About Solutions Law Press

    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.

    Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

    We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

    Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

    ©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    Hospital Will Pay $75K For Refusing To Hire Disabled Worker

    March 10, 2014

    Osceola Community Hospital Refused To Hire Child Care Worker With Cerebral Palsy Who Had Worked As Volunteer

    Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley, Iowa will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for its refusal to hire a child care worker with cerebral palsy.  The case shows both the need for health care and other employers to have sufficient evidence to support decisions not to hire disabled workers for safety reasons as well as the potential risks that hospitals or other face when refusing to hire disabled individuals who have been allowed to work as volunteers in their organizations.

    The EEOC charged a day care center operated by the hospital, Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, unlawfully failed to hire a volunteer employee into a paid position for which she was qualified because of her cerebral palsy.  Although the woman who brought the charge of discrimination against the hospital already volunteered in the day care center and held a job driving a school bus, the EEOC’s investigation revealed the county refused to hire her into a paying job in the center out of an unfounded fear that her disability meant that she could not safely care for the children.

    Judge Mark Bennett entered a consent decree on February, 28, 2014, resolving the brought by the EEOC in EEOC v. Osceola Community Hospital d/b/a Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, Civil Action No. 5:12-cv-4087 (N.D. Iowa, Sept. 26, 2012 that orders Osceola Community Hospital to pay $75,000 to the discrimination victim.  The decree also requires the hospital to institute a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability and to distribute the policy to all of its employees.  The hospital also must train its employees and report regularly to the EEOC on its compliance with the ADA.

    The lawsuit provides another example to health care and other employers of their growing exposure to disability discrimination claims under the ADA.  The EEOC action and lawsuit highlights the importance of employers ensuring that decisions to refuse to hire disabled workers for safety reasons are based upon appropriate evidence of actual safety concerns that prevent the worker from safely performing the assigned duties with or without reasonable accommodation.

    The fact that the worker in this case had in fact worked as a volunteer likely created additional challenges in defending the decision.  The use of volunteer workers in health industry businesses is a common practice that may justify special care before those organizations deny employment to a former volunteer on the basis of safety concerns associated with the disabilities of the applicant or worker both to document the reasonable basis of the safety concern and that the concern could not be adequately resolved through reasonable accommodation.

    Health Care Providers Must Strengthen Disability Compliance & Risk Management

    Employment discrimination isn’t the only disability discrimination risk that hospitals and other health industry organizations need to worry about in today’s liability charged environment.  Enforcing federal discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration. The Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Justice, Housing & Urban Development, and others all have both increased enforcement, audits and public outreach, as well as have sought or are proposing tighter regulations.

    The expanding applicability of nondiscrimination rules coupled with the wave of new policies and regulatory and enforcement actions should alert private businesses and state and local government agencies of the need to exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges under employment, Medicare, housing and a broad range of other laws.

    The Obama Administration is targeting disability discrimination by health care organizations in a broad range of areas as part of its Barrier Free Health Care Initiative (Initiative).  Launched on the 22nd anniversary of the ADA in July 2012, the Initiative is a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and 40 U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation, that targets ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities.

    Part of a broader enforcement initiative of the Obama Administration to enforce and expand federal protections for individuals with disabilities, the Initiative seeks to protect patients with disabilities against illegal disability discrimination by prosecuting health care providers under the ADA and the Rehab Act.

    Section 504 of the Rehab Act requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

    The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs The ADA requirements extend most federal disability discrimination prohibits to health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.

    In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.  The public accommodation provisions of the ADA, for instance, generally require those doctors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and other health care providers, as well as other covered businesses to provide people with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to goods, services, and facilities.  The ADA also may compel health care providers to adjust their practices for delivering care and/or providing access to facilities to accommodate special needs of disabled individuals under certain circumstances. Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

     The  Justice Departments campaign against disability discrimination by health care providers is supported and enhanced by the concurrent efforts of OCR.   Along side the Justice Department’s efforts, OCR recently has announced several settlement agreements and issued letters of findings as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with the Rehab Act and the ADA well as various other federal nondiscrimination and civil rights laws. Through its own antidiscrimination campaign, OCR is racking up an impressive list of settlements with health care providers, housing and other businesses for violating the ADA, Section 504 or other related civil rights rules enforced by OCR.   See, e.g. Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled.   Meanwhile, both the Justice Department and OCR also are encouraging victims of discrimination to enforce their rights through private action through educational outreach to disabled and other individuals protected by federal disabilities and other civil rights laws to make them aware of and to encourage them to act to enforce these rights.

    Health Care Organizations & Providers Should Act To Manage Patient-Related Disability Discrimination Risks

    Prosecutions and settlements by these and other federal agencies show the need for health care providers and other public and private organizations to strengthen their disability discrimination compliance and management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the Justice Department, OCR,  the EEOC and other agencies as well as private law suits.  Hospitals, health care clinics, physicians and other health care providers should take steps to guard against joining the growing list of health care providers caught in the enforcement sights of the Initiative by reviewing and updating practices, policies, training and oversight to ensure that their organizations can prevent and defend against charges of disability discrimination.

    Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, the failure of health care organizations to effectively keep up processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

    In light of the expanding readiness of the Justice Department, OCR, HUD, EEOC and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

    To achieve and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

    Her insights on these and other related matters 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and help businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.  For additional information about upcoming programs, to explore becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship, to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 Regulations.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


    Tighten Disability Compliance To Avoid ADA Suits, Program Disqualification & Other Risks

    July 30, 2013

    The Department of Justice’s July 29, 2013 announcement that it is suing Dr. Hal Brown and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast of Vero Beach, Florida (PCTC) for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating and retaliating against two deaf patients reminds physicians, clinics, hospitals and other health industry providers, their landlords, and other vendors to tighten their understanding, practices of federal and state disability discrimination laws to avoid getting nailed for improper discrimination.   Following on the Department of Health & Human Service’s recently announced exclusion of a physician that illegally discriminated against a HIV-positive patient, health care providers are on notice that Federal officials are gunning for health care providers who illegally discriminate against patients and others with disabilities.

    With the Justice Department, HHS and others targeting discrimination in the health care industry, physicians and their practices, clinics, hospitals and other private and public health care providers, and their landlords and other vendors should update their understanding of disability discrimination responsibilities and exposures, and then review and tighten policies, practices, workforce training and oversight, and other risk management and compliance practice to help prevent and mitigate exposures to disability and other discrimination claims.

    Health Care Providers & Industry Under Fire For Disability Discrimination

    While the heavy emphasis generally placed upon the enforcement of disability laws by the Obama Administration has heightened the risks of all U.S. businesses, health care providers are particularly at risk to disability discrimination liability as a result of the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative of the Justice Department and related health industry disability enforcement initiatives of HHS and other federal agencies.

    Health care provider, like other U.S. businesses, face sweeping responsibilities under the various federal laws such as the public accommodation and other disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA, Section 504, the Civil Rights Act and various other laws. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act generally requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

    The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs.  Rather, the ADA requirements and disability discrimination prohibitions generally apply to all U.S. health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance.  Under the ADA, health care providers and other covered businesses generally have a duty other to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.  In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.

    Specifically under the ADA:

    • The public accommodation provisions generally both prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities when delivering health care or other services, as well as require health industry and other businesses to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless the health care provider proves its actions are defensible under an exception to these general rules.
    • The employment discrimination provisions generally prohibit health care industry and other employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers unless the health care provider can prove that its conduct qualifies under one of the allowable exceptions to the general prohibition against discrimination.
    • The anti-retaliation rules prohibit retaliation against an individual because he opposes an act that is unlawful under the ADA or because he made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any way in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the ADA.  These provisions also make it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any individual exercising their rights protected by the ADA.

    Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

    Justice Department ADA Suit Against Brown & PCTC

    The ADA lawsuit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s Celebration of the 23rd Anniversary of the ADA last week and is an example of one of a growing number of lawsuits and other actions against health care providers resulting from the Justice Department “Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative”  and related Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) enforcement efforts focusing on ensuring access to health care for individuals with disabilities.

    The Department of Justice suit charges Dr. Brown and PCTC with violating the public accommodation and anti-retaliation provisions of ADA by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese and then retaliating against the couple for engaging in activities protected under the ADA.

    According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Dr. Brown and PCTC terminated Mr. and Mrs. Liese as patients because the couple pursued ADA claims against a hospital located next door to and affiliated with PCTC for not providing effective communication during an emergency surgery.  The complaint alleges that after learning that the Lieses threatened the hospital with an ADA suit based on failure to provide sign language interpreter services, PCTC and Dr. Brown, who was the Liese’s primary doctor at PCTC, immediately terminated the Lieses as patients.

    The Justice Department says this termination of the Lieses as patients violated the ADA.  According to Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, “A person cannot be terminated as a patient because he or she asserts the right to effective communication at a hospital.”

    While it remains to be seen if the Justice Department will be successful in its suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC, it has experienced significant success in disability discrimination actions against other health care providers.

    Justice Department Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative Successes Growing

    Justice Department suits like the ADA suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC are increasingly common and successful.

    While the Justice Department across the years has prosecuted various health care providers for illegal discrimination under the ADA, it has turned up the heat with its nationwide Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  According to the Justice Department, it intends that the prosecutions under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative to focus and leverage the Justice Department’s resources together and send a clear message that disability discrimination in health care is illegal and unacceptable.

    Since the Justice Department announced its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative last year, for instance, the Justice Department has entered into 18 settlements under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  These include three agreements requiring health care providers to provide auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, to individuals who are deaf to ensure effective communication in health care settings including two settlements in the last month.

    On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee announced that Heart Center of Memphis has agreed to provide qualified sign language and oral interpreters as well as other auxiliary aids and services to patients who are deaf, have hearing loss or have speech disabilities to resolve a Justice Department complaint charging the Heart Center violated the ADA by telling a deaf patient that it was his responsibility to arrange a sign language interpreter for his appointment.  After several unsuccessful attempts to get the Heart Center to provide a qualified sign language interpreter as required by law, the patient cancelled his appointment.

    On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced it had reached a disability discrimination settlement agreement with Midtown Neurology P.C.  The settlement resolved a complaint alleging that Midtown Neurology P.C. failed to provide, over multiple appointments, a qualified sign language interpreter for a patient who is deaf.   At one appointment, the patient underwent a painful neurological test.  Because there was no interpreter, the patient could not communicate that she was frightened and in pain, and that she wanted the doctor to stop the procedure.  Under the agreement, Midtown Neurology P.C. will provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified interpreters, to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing where necessary to ensure effective communication.

    In previous months, the Justice Department also has reached settlement agreements resolving charges health care providers violated the ADA by failing to provide interpreters or other accommodations for deaf or other communication impaired patients with Burke Health and Rehabilitation Center (May 3, 2013); Monadnock Community Hospital (April 5, 2013); Manassas Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); Gainesville Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); the Center for Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine, Inc. (April 5, 2013); Northern Ohio Medical Specialists (April 5, 2013); Northshore University Healthsystems (June 28, 2012); Steven Senica, M.D., and Senica Bruneau, Ltd. (June 11, 2012); Trinity Regional Medical Center and Trinity Health Systems (March 29, 2012); Henry Ford Health System (February 1, 2012); and Cheshire Medical Center, Keene Health Alliance, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic D/B/A Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene (October 31, 2011)

    In addition, the Justice Department also particularly is aggressive in prosecuting health care providers that discriminate against individuals with HIV.  In the past six months, the Department reports it has reached five settlement agreements with medical providers to address HIV discrimination.

    For instance, the Justice Department on July 26, 2013 announced that Barix Clinics, an organization that operates bariatric treatment facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania, will pay $35,000 to victim-complainants and a $10,000 civil penalty, train its staff on the ADA and implement an anti-discrimination policy to settle Justice Department charges that Barix Clinics unlawfully refused to perform bariatric surgery on a man at its Langhorne, Pa., facility because he has HIV.  The Department also determined that Barix Clinics cancelled bariatric surgery for another individual at its Ypsilanti, Michigan facility because he has HIV.

    The Barix Clinic settlement added to a long list of earlier settlements of ADA charges stemming from discrimination against HIV patients including Glenbeigh (settlement regarding exclusion of an individual from an alcohol treatment program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, March 13, 2013); Woodlawn Family Dentistry (dentist office’s unequal treatment of people with HIV in the scheduling of future dental appointments, February 12, 2013); Castlewood Treatment Center (eating disorder clinic’s refusal to treat a woman for a serious eating disorder because she has HIV, February 6, 2013); and Fayetteville Pain Center (unlawful exclusion of a person with HIV from treatment, January 31, 2013).

    While most announced Justice Department settlements involve the denial of interpreters to deaf or other communication impaired patients and discrimination in the treatment of HIV patients, the Justice Department also has shown a willingness to prosecute health care providers who engage in other types of disability discrimination.  For instance, on April 3, 2012, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Richard Noren, M.D., Henry Kurzydlowski, M.D., and Pain Care Consultant, Inc., which resolved charges that they violated the ADA by failing to make reasonable changes to policies, practices, and procedures to enable a child with diabetes to participate in summer camp.  Furthermore, although not necessarily reflected in the currently published, officially announced settlements of the Justice Department, health care providers have reported that the Justice Department and HHS also have become increasingly aggressive in investigating disability claims of visually or other physically, cognitively, or emotionally disabled patients arising from the failure of health care providers to accommodate their need for support or comfort animals.

    Justice Department Plans To Keep Heat On Health Care Providers

    All signs are that the Justice Department intends to continue, if not expand its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiatives.  In fact, the suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s filing of an ADA disabilities discrimination lawsuit against the State of Florida alleging the state is in violation of the ADA in its administration of its service system for children with significant medical needs.

    The Justice Department lawsuit against the State of Florida charges that Florida’s programs have resulted in nearly 200 children with disabilities being unnecessarily segregated in nursing facilities which should be served in their family homes or other community-based settings.  The Justice Department further alleges that the state’s policies and practices place other children with significant medical needs in the community at serious risk of institutionalization in nursing facilities.  The department’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for affected children.

    “Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities.  This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead.  The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”

    Health Industry Disability Discrimination Risks:  Beyond The Justice Department

    While private plaintiffs as well as the Justice Department and other agencies increasingly successfully sue health care providers for violating the ADA and other disability discrimination laws, the often significant damages and defense costs that often arise from these suits are only part of the exposure that health care providers should consider and manage.  Among other things, health care providers accused or found to engage in disability discrimination also generally also risk significant adverse publicity, loss or curtailment of federal or state program participation, reimbursement or other contractual or administrative penalties, licensing board and accreditation sanctions, burdensome corrective action and ongoing reporting and oversight and other consequences.

    Perhaps most notably, HHS also is stepping up enforcement against health care providers that discriminate against the disabled.  Like the actions of the Justice Department, many of these enforcement actions focus heavily on discrimination against HIV patients as well as deaf or other individuals whose disabilities impairs their ability to communicate effectively with health care providers.

    For instance, on July 18, 2013, HHS announced the termination of Medicaid funding to a California surgeon who intentionally discriminated against an HIV-positive patient by refusing to perform much-needed back surgery. The HHS Departmental Appeals Board concluded that the surgeon violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability discrimination by health care providers who receive federal funds. The order follows an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of a complaint filed by a patient who alleged that the surgeon refused to perform back surgery after learning that the patient was HIV-positive. OCR found that the surgeon discriminated against the patient on the basis of his HIV status in violation of federal civil rights laws. See HHS Press Release; HHS Departmental Appeals Board Decision; OCR Violation Letter of Findings.

    HHS’s exclusion of the surgeon from federal program participation is part of a long-standing policy of OCR of pursuing disability discrimination actions against providers that discriminate against patients with HIV.  For instance OCR previously has announced that an Austin, Texas orthopedic surgeon had agreed to ensure that individuals living with HIV/AIDS have equal access to appropriate medical treatment in order to resolve charges brought in an OCR Violation Letter of Finding charging the surgeon with violating the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to perform knee surgery on an HIV-positive patient.  See Settlement Agreement.

    OCR, like the Justice Department, also is aggressive in pursuing Rehabilitation Act claims against health care providers for failing to provide interpreters or other appropriate accommodations for deaf or other patients with disabilities that impair their ability to communicate. In March, for instance, OCR announced a settlement agreement with national senior care provider, Genesis HealthCare (Genesis) which resolved an OCR complaint that Genesis violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide a qualified interpreter to a resident at its skilled nursing facility in Randallstown, Maryland. See, Genesis Settlement.

    OCR construes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as among other things requiring that facilities take appropriate steps to ensure effective communications with individuals. According to OCR, throughout the patient’s stay at the facility, an OCR investigation showed center staff relied on written notes and gestures to communicate with the resident, even while conducting a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation with him.  Moreover, by not being provided a qualified interpreter, evaluations of his care and discussions on the effects of his numerous medications and the risks caused by not following recommended treatments and prescription protocols had harmful effects on the patient’s overall health status.  According to OCR Director Leon Rodriguez, “This patient’s care was unnecessarily and significantly compromised by the stark absence of interpreter services.” OCR concluded that in order for the patient and staff to be able to communicate effectively with each other regarding treatment, a qualified sign language interpreter would have been necessary.

    Under the terms of the agreement, Genesis must require all facilities to provide interpreters and other suitable communications accommodations to language disabled patients, form an auxiliary aids and services hotline; create an advisory committee to provide guidance and direction on how to best communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community; designate a monitor to conduct a self-assessment and obtain feedback from deaf and hard of hearing individuals and advocates and conduct outreach to promote awareness of hearing impairments and services that are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  In addition Genesis will be required to pay monetary penalties for noncompliance with any terms of the agreement.

    In announcing the Genesis settlement, Director Rodriguez warned, “My office continues its enforcement activities and work with providers, particularly large health care systems like Genesis, to make certain that compliance with nondiscrimination laws is a system wide obligation.

    The Genesis Agreement is typical of a multitude of settlements resulting from OCR enforcement against health care providers for failing to accommodate deaf, speech or other communication impaired patients.  See, e.g. Cattaraugus County Department of Aging Settlement Agreement; District of Columbia Children and Family Services Agency Settlement Agreement (February 8, 2013); Memorial Health System Colorado Springs  Voluntary Resolution Agreement (November 7, 2012); Advanced Dialysis Centers Settlement Agreement (February  17, 2012).

    When evaluating the need to provide interpreters, health care providers also should consider the advisability of offering interpreters for patients whose primary language is not English.  OCR’s discrimination enforcement efforts often extend to other language impaired persons such as English as a Second Language patients.  In addition to its efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities impacting their ability to communicate, OCR recently announced a national initiative under which it will conduct compliance reviews of critical access hospitals as part of its efforts to strengthen language access for individuals whose primary language is not English.  See OCR Launches Nationwide Compliance Review Initiative To Strengthen Language Access Programs At Critical Access Hospitals.

    Health care providers also should ensure that their take appropriate steps to accommodate other disabilities.  For instance, the use of support animals by veterans, children, and other patients with physical, emotional or cognitive disorders on the rise, health care providers need to ensure that their policies, practices, training, facilities leases and other vendor contracts, posting and other arrangements are updated to accommodate patients requiring the use of support or comfort animals.  OCR’s enforcement actions already have extended to protection of the rights of disabled individuals to have the aid and assistance of their service animals when receiving services from health care providers.  For instance, under a settlement agreement with the St. Mercy Medical Center (Mercy) in Fort Smith, Arkansas resolving an OCR complaint that it violated Section 504 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Mercy committed to revise it policies and procedures to comply with Section 504 and to provide staff comprehensive training on their obligations to provide services without discrimination to qualified persons with disabilities. This settlement follows an OCR investigation into a complaint filed by an individual whose service animal was not allowed to go with him into the hospital.  See, Mercy Settlement Agreement. This recent newscast video highlights how the failure to update postings, training, and other practices could result in a host of negative publicity and enforcement actions from refusing or limiting the ability of a person with a disability to have the support of his comfort animal within a health care facility. North Texas Vet Cries Foul After Service Dog Rejection.  This type of adverse publicity not only can do serious damage to a health care provider’s public image, it also is likely to trigger the type of investigation that lead to the Mercy enforcement action.

    Other Disability Discrimination Risks

    Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, physicians and other licensed professionals can expect that they may face disciplinary action by their applicable licensing boards, whose rules typically now make disability or other wrongful discrimination against patients a violation of their rules.  Meanwhile, the failure of health care organizations to effectively maintain processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

    Act To Manage & Mitigate Disability Risks

    In the face of these growing risks ,  physicians, hospitals and their medical staffs, and other health care providers should review and tighten their policies, leases and other vendor contracts, practices and training to minimize their exposure to prosecution or other sanctions for disability discrimination.

    In light of the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures.

    Given a series of recent changes in the provisions of the ADA, discrimination regulations, and enforcement standards, this process generally should begin by reviewing the health care provider’s understanding and policies regarding disability and other discrimination to ensure that they comply with current legal and credentialing requirements and standards.  Once the organization confirms its understanding of current rules is up-to-date, the health care provider also should critically evaluate its operations to identify where its postings, policies, training, practices and operations need to be updated or tightened to meet these standards or avoid other risks.

    In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

    To meet and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

    Her insights on these and other related matters 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  here. About Solutions Law Press

    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 including:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

    THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

     

    ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    With Risks Rising, Listen To 9/19 OCR Webinar On Civil Rights Enforcement In Health Care

    September 18, 2012

     With the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and other federal agencies stepping up their civil rights and discrimination compliance audits and enforcement activities and private plaintiff discrimination suits against health care providers and other health industry organizations rising, health care, housing, health insurance and other organizations subject to these requirements are encouraged to learn more about HHS’ view and enforcement of these civil rights rules by participating in the webcast on “Addressing Health Disparities through Civil Rights Compliance and Enforcement” on Wednesday, September 19 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. eastern daylight savings time (EST).

    September 19 Webinar

    According to HHS, the September 19, 2012 webinar will be jointly hosted by the Health Resources and Services Administration Office of Equal Opportunity, Civil Rights & Diversity Management (OEOCRDM) Office of Federal Assistance Management (OFAM) and the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR).

    Topics of discussion will include:

    • How non-compliance can contribute to health disparities and disparities in quality care;
    • Opportunities to ensure HHS-funded programs are in compliance with civil rights laws;
    • How HHS OCR enforces compliance in your neighborhood.
    • A panel of OCR and ASFR experts answering questions

    To join the webcast click here

    Rising Civil Rights Law Exposures Require Management 

    Public and private health care and housing providers may face discrimination exposures under various federal laws such as the public accommodation and other disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA, Section 504, the Civil Rights Act and various other laws. Section 504 requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs The ADA requirements extend most federal disability discrimination prohibits to health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.  In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.  Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact virtually all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

    As part of a broader emphasis on the enforcement of disability and other federal discrimination laws by the Obama Administration, OCR is making investigation and prosecution of suspected disability discrimination by health industry organizations a priority.  OCR recently has announced several settlement agreements and issued letters of findings as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as well as various other federal nondiscrimination and civil rights laws.

    Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, the failure of health care organizations to effectively maintain processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

    As a result of its stepped up enforcement of the ADA, Section 504 and other civil rights and nondiscrimination rules, OCR is racking up an impressive list of settlements with health care providers, housing and other businesses for violating the ADA, Section 504 or other related civil rights rules enforced by OCR.  While OCR continues to wage this enforcement battle in the programs it administers, the Departments of Justice, Housing & Urban Development (HUD), Education, Labor and other federal agencies also are waging war against what the Obama Administration perceives as illegal discrimination in other areas.  Along side their own enforcement activities, OCR and other federal agencies are maintaining a vigorous public outreach to disabled and other individuals protected by federal disabilities and other civil rights laws intended to make them aware of and to encourage them to act to enforce these rights. To be prepared to defend against the resulting risk of claims and other enforcement actions created by these activities, health care, housing and other U.S. providers and businesses need to tighten compliance and risk management procedures and take other steps to prepare themselves to respond to potential charges and investigations.

    Recent Settlements Highlight Risk

    Within recent settlement agreements, entities agreed to take steps to come into compliance with Section 504 and ADA, including: review and revision of policies and procedures; training staff on their non-discrimination obligations; providing a grievance procedure for patients; and other corrective actions specific to each entity’s violations.  To learn more details about these actions and settlements, see here

    These and other enforcement actions by OCR and other agencies demonstrate the significant increased federal emphasis on the enforcement of federal discrimination laws against private and public health care and housing providers, state and local governments and other businesses under the Obama Administration. In keeping with this renewed emphasis, the DCF settlement is the latest in a series of federal disability, national origin and other discrimination charges and settlements OCR, has brought over the past year against physicians, public and private hospitals, insurers, federally financed housing providers and other parties providing services financed under programs administered by OCR. As HUD, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other federal agencies also similarly have increased emphasis in federal discrimination law enforcement during this period, health care providers and other federal program service providers need to be prepared to defend their programs and practices to withstand federal discrimination charges or other investigations by federal agencies, private plaintiffs or both. 

    As for employment discrimination, violators of these and other federal discrimination prohibitions applicable to the offering and delivery of services and products also face exposure to large civil damage awards to private plaintiffs as well as federal program disqualification, penalties and other federal agency enforcement. Unfortunately, while most businesses and governmental leaders generally are sensitive to the need to maintain effective compliance programs to prevent and redress employment discrimination, the awareness of the applicability and non-employment related disability and other discrimination risk management and compliance lags far behind.

    Many private health care organizations assume that OCR’s enforcement actions are mostly a problem for state and local government agencies because state and local agencies and service providers frequently have been the target of OCR discrimination charges.  However the record shows OCR enforcement risks are high for both public and private providers. 

    OCR can and does investigate and brings actions against a wide variety of public and private physicians, hospitals, insurers and other private health care and other federal program participants. In October, 2009,  for instance, OCR announced that an Austin, Texas orthopedic surgeon whose practice group sees an average of 200 patients per week, had entered into a settlement agreement to resolve OCR charges that he violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by denying medically appropriate treatment from patients solely because they are HIV-positive.

    Invest in Prevention To Minimize Liability Risks

    In light of the expanding readiness of OCR to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

    To achieve and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

    Her insights on these and other related matters 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

    About Solutions Law Press

    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 including:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here. 

    THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN. 

    ©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


    Health Care Orgs Disability Exposure High As $475K Paid To Settle Justice Department Charges Medical Fitness Screenings of EMTs, Others Violated ADA

    August 13, 2012

    The Justice Department’s announced prosecution and settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit against Baltimore County, Maryland for allegedly violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by screening emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other public safety workers provides another reminder to health care providers and other public and private organizations of the need to strengthen their disability discrimination management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other agencies as well as private law suits.

    As part of a broader emphasis on the enforcement of disability and other federal discrimination laws by the Obama Administration, OCR is making investigation and prosecution of suspected disability discrimination by health industry organizations a priority.  OCR recently has announced several settlement agreements and issued letters of findings as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) as well as various other federal nondiscrimination and civil rights laws.

    Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, the failure of health care organizations to effectively maintain processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

    In the employment arena, a settlement announced August 7 with Baltimore County is particularly notable as part of this trend, both for its challenge of medical exams and inquiries for EMTs and others in health care and other areas where safety could be a concern, as well as its objection to medical inquiries made to workers on medical leave during the course of that leave.

    Baltimore County Nailed For Health Screening of Public Safety Workers

    Employment disability discrimination risk management clearly must be a key element of health care and other organization’s disability discrimination risk management and risk assessments should not take for granted the defensibility of practices previously assumed defensible as required by law or for health and safety reasons.  Rather, health care and other employers that require employees to submit to medical examinations, question employees about physician or mental conditions or disabilities, or engage in other similar activities should check the defensibility of those practices in light of the growing challenges to these and other employee screening practices by the Obama Administration and private plaintiff attorneys like the Justice Department disability discrimination complaint that lead to a $475,000 settlement against Baltimore County, Maryland announced by the Justice Department on August 7, 2012.  According to the Justice Department, Baltimore County, Maryland will pay $475,000 and change its hiring procedures to resolve a Justice Department lawsuit filed that charged the county violated the ADA by requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and disability-related inquiries without a proper reason, and by excluding applicants from EMT positions because of their diabetes.

    ADA Employment Discrimination Generally

    Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations show Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to make sure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently do the essential functions of their jobs.  An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a person with a disability with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

    As reflected by the Baltimore County settlement, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Employees or applicants that can prove they were subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

    Baltimore County Nailed For Medical Fitness Screening Of EMTs, Other Public Safety Workers

    The U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Baltimore County, Maryland is one in a growing series of lawsuits in which the Justice Department or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In its lawsuit against the County, the Justice Department complaint identified 10 current and former police officers, firefighters, EMTs, civilian employees and applicants who were allegedly subjected to inappropriate and intrusive medical examinations and/or other disability-based discrimination.  Justice Department officials claimed the County required some employees to undergo medical examinations or respond to medical inquiries that were unrelated to their ability to perform the functions of their jobs.  The complaint also alleged the County required employees to submit to medical examinations that were improperly timed, such as requiring an employee who was on medical leave and undergoing medical treatment to submit to a medical exam even though the employee was not attempting to return to work yet.

    According to the complaint, many affected employees – some of whom had worked for the County for decades – submitted to the improper medical exams for fear of discipline or termination if they refused.  The complaint also alleges that the county retaliated against an employee who tried to caution against the unlawful medical exams and refused to hire two qualified applicants for EMT positions because they had diabetes.

     In the proposed consent decree filed on August 7, 2012 and awaiting District Court approval, the County seeks to resolve the lawsuit by agreeing to:

    • Pay $475,000 to the complainants and provide more work-related benefits (including retirement benefits and back pay, plus interest);
    • Adopt new policies and procedures on the administration of medical examinations and inquiries;
    • Refrain from using the services of the medical examiner who conducted the overbroad medical examinations in question; 
    • Stop the automatic exclusion of job applicants who have insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; and
    • Provide training on the ADA to all current supervisory employees and all employees who participate in making personnel decisions.

     Obama Administration Aggressively Enforcing & Interpreting Employment & Other Disability Discrimination Laws 

    The Baltimore County suit is reflective of the aggressive emphasis that the Obama Administration is placing on challenging employers that require employees to undergo medical screening, respond to medical inquiries or engage in other practices that the EEOC, Justice Department or other Obama Administration officials under Title I of the ADA, as well as its heavy emphasis upon enforcement of the ADA and other disability discrimination laws against U.S. businesses and state and local government agencies generally. 

    The Justice Department action against Baltimore County is part of the Obama Administration’s sweeping effort to enforce employment and other disability discrimination laws against businesses and state and local government agencies alike.  While the Administration’s disability law enforcement reaches broadly, disability discrimination enforcement is particularly notable in the area of employment law.  This enforcement targets both public employers like Baltimore County, and private employers.  In the private employer arena, for instance, the EEOC earlier this year sued Wendy’s franchisee, CTW L.L.C., (Texas Wendy’s) for allegedly violating the ADA by denying employment to a hearing-impaired applicant.  In its suit against Texas Wendy’s, the EEOC  seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and  correct disability discrimination as well as an award of lost wages and compensatory damages for Harrison  and punitive damages against CTW L.L.C.   In the suit, the EEOC charged that the general manager of a Killeen,  Texas Wendy’s refused to hire Michael Harrison, Jr. for a cooker position,  despite his qualifications and experience, upon learning that Harrison is  hearing-impaired.

    According to the EEOC, Harrison, who had previously worked for a different fast-food franchise for over two  years, was denied hire by the general manager.  Harrison said that after successfully  interviewing with the Wendy’s shift manager, he attempted to complete the  interview process by interviewing with Wendy’s general manager via Texas Relay,  a telephonic system used by people with hearing impairments. Harrison’s told  the EEOC that during the call he was told by the general manager that “there is  really no place for someone we cannot communicate with.”

    As illustrated by the suits against Baltimore County, Texas Wendy’s and many other public and private employers, employers must exercise care when making hiring, promotion or other employment related decisions relating to persons with hearing or other conditions that could qualify as a disability under the ADA.  

    Defending disability discrimination charges has become more complicated due to both the aggressive interpretation and enforcement of the ADA under the Obama Administration and amendments to the ADA that aid private plaintiffs, the EEOC, the Justice Department and others to prove their case.  Provisions of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) that expand the definition of “disability” under the ADA,   signed into law on September 25, 2008, broadened the definition of “disability” for purposes of the disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA to make it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that a person has a disability within the meaning of the ADA.  The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, provisions of the ADAAA that took effect January 1, 2009 change the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several ways. Most significantly, the ADAAA:

    • Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining the term “substantially limits;”
    • Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: (1) The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and (2) The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
    • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
    • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
    • Changes the definition of “regarded as” so that it no longer requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is “regarded as” disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor; and
    • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.

    The ADAAA also emphasizes that the definition of disability should be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA and generally shall not require extensive analysis. In adopting these changes, Congress expressly sought to overrule existing employer-friendly judicial precedent construing the current provisions of the ADA and to require the EEOC to update its existing guidance to confirm with the ADAAA Amendments.  Under the leadership of the Obama Administration, the EEOC and other federal agencies have embraced this charge and have significantly stepped up enforcement of the ADA and other federal discrimination laws.

    The ADAAA amendments coupled with the Obama Administration’s emphasis on enforcement make it likely that businesses generally will face more disability claims from a broader range of employees and will possess fewer legal shields to defend themselves against these claims. These changes will make it easier for certain employees to qualify as disabled under the ADA.  Consequently, businesses should act strategically to mitigate their ADA exposures in anticipation of these changes. Given the Obama Administration’s well-documented, self-touted activism of the EEOC, Justice Department and other federal agencies in prosecuting disability discrimination and promoting a pro-disability enforcement agenda, businesses are encouraged to review and tighten their employment disability discrimination compliance procedures and documentation. 

    Likewise, businesses should be prepared for the EEOC and the courts to treat a broader range of disabilities, including those much more limited in severity and life activity restriction, to qualify as disabling for purposes of the Act. Businesses should assume that a greater number of employees with such conditions are likely to seek to use the ADA as a basis for challenging hiring, promotion and other employment decisions.  For this reason, businesses should exercise caution to carefully document legitimate business justification for their hiring, promotion and other employment related decisions about these and other individuals who might qualify as disabled taking into account both the broadened disability definition and the aggressive interpretative stance of the Obama Administration. Businesses also generally should tighten job performance and other employment recordkeeping to promote the ability to prove nondiscriminatory business justifications for the employment decisions made by the businesses.

    Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information regarding an applicant’s physical or mental impairment, such as medical absences, worker’s compensation claims, emergency information, or other records containing health status or condition related information.  The ADA generally requires that these records be maintained in separate confidential files and disclosed only to individuals with a need to know under circumstances allowed by the ADA. 

    As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
    • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
    • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
    • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
    • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
    • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
    • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

    These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.  Added together, employment related disability discrimination are large and growing, meriting stepped up risk assessment and management.

    Health Care & Other Organizations Also Targeted For Violations Of Public Accommodation & Other Federal Disability & Other Disability Discrimination Laws

    In addition to the well-known and expanding employment discrimination risks, public and private health care and housing providers also increasingly face disability discrimination exposures under various federal laws such as the public accommodation and other disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA, Section 504, the Civil Rights Act and various other laws that the Obama Administration views as high enforcement priorities.

    Section 504 requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs The ADA requirements extend most federal disability discrimination prohibits to health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.  In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.  Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact virtually all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

    As a result of its stepped up enforcement of the ADA, Section 504 and other civil rights and nondiscrimination rules, OCR is racking up an impressive list of settlements with health care providers, housing and other businesses for violating the ADA, Section 504 or other related civil rights rules enforced by OCR.  While OCR continues to wage this enforcement battle in the programs it administers, the Departments of Justice, Housing & Urban Development, Education, Labor and other federal agencies also are waging war against what the Obama Administration perceives as illegal discrimination in other areas.  Along side their own enforcement activities, OCR and other federal agencies are maintaining a vigorous public outreach to disabled and other individuals protected by federal disabilities and other civil rights laws intended to make them aware of and to encourage them to act to enforce these rights. To be prepared to defend against the resulting risk of claims and other enforcement actions created by these activities, health care, housing and other U.S. providers and businesses need to tighten compliance and risk management procedures and take other steps to prepare themselves to respond to potential charges and investigations.

    Recent Settlements Highlight Risk

    Within recent settlement agreements, entities agreed to take steps to come into compliance with Section 504 and ADA, including: review and revision of policies and procedures; training staff on their non-discrimination obligations; providing a grievance procedure for patients; and other corrective actions specific to each entity’s violations.  To learn more details about these actions and settlements, see https://www.cynthiastamer.com/documents/articles/20111019%20OCR%20Disability%20Enforcement%20CMSPC.pdf.

    Enforcement of Discrimination & Other Civil Rights Laws Obama Administration Priority Putting Public & Private Providers At Risk

    These and other enforcement actions by OCR and other agencies demonstrate the significant increased federal emphasis on the enforcement of federal discrimination laws against private and public health care and housing providers, state and local governments and other businesses under the Obama Administration. In keeping with this renewed emphasis, the DCF settlementis one of a growing list of federal disability, national origin and other discrimination charges and settlements OCR, has brought over the past year against physicians, public and private hospitals, insurers, federally financed housing providers and other parties providing services financed under programs administered by OCR. As the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other federal agencies also similarly have increased emphasis in federal discrimination law enforcement during this period, health care providers and other federal program service providers need to be prepared to defend their programs and practices to withstand federal discrimination charges or other investigations by federal agencies, private plaintiffs or both. 

    As for employment discrimination, violators of these and other federal discrimination prohibitions applicable to the offering and delivery of services and products also face exposure to large civil damage awards to private plaintiffs as well as federal program disqualification, penalties and other federal agency enforcement. Unfortunately, while most businesses and governmental leaders generally are sensitive to the need to maintain effective compliance programs to prevent and redress employment discrimination, the awareness of the applicability and non-employment related disability and other discrimination risk management and compliance lags far behind.

    Many private health care organizations assume that OCR’s enforcement actions are mostly a problem for state and local government agencies because state and local agencies and service providers frequently have been the target of OCR discrimination charges.  However the record shows OCR enforcement risks are high for both public and private providers. 

    OCR can and does investigate and brings actions against a wide variety of public and private physicians, hospitals, insurers and other private health care and other federal program participants. In October, 2009,  for instance, OCR announced that an Austin, Texas orthopedic surgeon whose practice group sees an average of 200 patients per week, had entered into a settlement agreement to resolve OCR charges that he violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by denying medically appropriate treatment from patients solely because they are HIV-positive.

    Obama Administration Also Aggressively Prosecutes Disability Discrimination In Other Business Operations

    Guarding against disability discrimination in employment is not the only area that businesses need to prepare to defend against.  The Obama Administration also has trumpeted its commitment to the aggressive enforcement of the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws.  In June, 2012, for instance, President Obama himself made a point of reaffirming his administration’s “commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

    As part of its significant commitment to disability discrimination enforcement, the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department has aggressively enforced the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws against state agencies and private businesses that it perceives to have improperly discriminated against disabled individuals.  For instance, the Justice Department entered into a landmark settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, which will shift Virginia’s developmental disabilities system from one heavily reliant on large, state-run institutions to one focused on safe, individualized, and community-based services that promote integration, independence and full participation by people with disabilities in community life. The agreement expands and strengthens every aspect of the Commonwealth’s system of serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in integrated settings, and it does so through a number of services and supports.  The Justice Department has a website dedicated to disabilities law enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. The settlement agreements are a reminder that private businesses and state and local government agencies alike should exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges.  All organizations, whether public or private need to make sure both that their organizations, their policies, and people in form and in action understand and comply with current disability and other nondiscrimination laws.  When reviewing these responsibilities, many state and local governments and private businesses may need to update their understanding of current requirements.  Statutory, regulatory or enforcement changes have expanded the scope and applicability of disability and various other federal nondiscrimination and other laws and risks of charges of discrimination. 

    To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks created by the ADAAA amendments, businesses generally should act cautiously when dealing with applicants or employees with actual, perceived, or claimed physical or mental impairments to decrease exposures under the ADA.  Management should exercise caution to carefully and proper the potential legal significance of physical or mental impairments or conditions that might be less significant in severity or scope, correctable through the use of eyeglasses, hearing aids, daily medications or other adaptive devices, or that otherwise have been assumed by management to fall outside the ADA’s scope. Employers should no longer assume, for instance, that a visually impaired employee won’t qualify as disabled because eyeglasses can substantially correct the employee’s visual impairment. 

    Invest in Prevention To Minimize Liability Risks

    In light of the expanding readiness of the EEOC, Justice Department, OCR, HUD and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

    To achieve and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

    For More Information Or Assistance

    If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to 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 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

    A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on 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 presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

    Her insights on these and other related matters 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.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  here. About Solutions Law Press

    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 including:

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    ©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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