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.

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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.

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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.


    Device Manufacturers & Health Care Providers Should Update Audits & Controls For New NIST Data Security Guidance

    August 23, 2018

    Medical device manufacturers whose physical devices include technology that allows them to connect to the internet or other electronic system to communicate with other devices or systems “connected medical devices”) and health care providers installing, providing or using these devices should check out the guidance on connected medical device security provided by the just released 375 page NIST Special Publication 1800-8 (Guidance) from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

    While the Guidance’s title of “Securing Wireless Infusion Pumps,” suggests a more narrow focus, the Guidance clearly can be read as relevant if not generally applicable to all connected medical devices.

    Unlike prior medical devices that were once standalone instruments, today’s wireless infusion pumps and other connected medical devices transmit and/or connect to a variety of electronic health records (EHRs) and other healthcare systems, networks, and other devices. While this connectivity often helps improve certain healthcare delivery processes, a medical device’s connectivity capabilities also can create significant cybersecurity risk, which could lead to health care privacy, operational or safety risks. Tampering or other intentional or inadvertent access or interference with the data sent or received from connected medical devices can expose health care providers and their healthcare enterprises to series risks including, for example:

    • A breach of electronic protected health information (ePHI) in violation of the privacy and security standards of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA);
    • Loss or disruption of healthcare services;
    • Malicious access by malicious actors;
    • Loss or corruption of enterprise information and patient data and health records; and
    • Resulting damage to an organization’s reputation, productivity, and bottom-line revenue.

    The Guide includes a variety of information NIST intends to help organizations manage these and other risks to connected medical devices and their ePHI and other data.  It provides an example that:

    • Illustrates cybersecurity standards and best-practice guidelines for better securing the wireless infusion pump ecosystem, such as the hardening of operating systems, segmenting the network, file and program whitelisting, code-signing, and using certificates for both authorization and encryption, maintaining the performance and usability of wireless infusion pumps and other connected mobile devices;
    • Discusses risks and opportunities to reduce risks from the compromise of information, including the potential for a breach or loss of ePHI, as well as not allowing these medical devices to be used for anything other than the intended purposes;
    • Documentation of a defense-in-depth strategy to introduce layers of cybersecurity controls that avoid a single point of failure and provide strong support for availability that may include a variety of tactics: using network segmentation to isolate business units and user access; applying firewalls to manage and control network traffic; hardening and enabling device security features to reduce zero-day exploits; and implementing strong network authentication protocols and proper network encryption, monitoring, auditing, and intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS);
    • Highlights best practices for the procurement of wireless infusion pumps, by including the need for cybersecurity features at the point of purchase; and
    • Calls upon industry to create new best practices for healthcare providers to consider when onboarding medical devices, with a focus on elements such as asset inventory, certificate management, device hardening and configuration, and a clean-room environment to limit the possibility of zero-day vulnerabilities.

    As the patient identifiable ePHI these connected medical devices send, store or receive are considered subject to HIPAA’s privacy, security and breach notification rules, health care providers, medical device manufacturers acting as their business associates and other entities covered by these rules as covered entities or business associates are responsible for protecting and safeguarding this ePHI in accordance with HIPAA’s requirements.  Since the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) often points to the NIST guidance as a relevant touchstone for HIPAA covered entities and business associates to comply with HIPAA security requirements, HIPAA covered entities can anticipate that OCR will look to and be influenced by the Guidance in formulating and applying HIPAA to connected mobile devices.  Consequently, health care providers and other HIPAA covered entities and their business associates should be prepared to demonstrate their consideration and use of the standards and practices suggested in the Guidance including their analysis and justification for not following those criteria as part of their HIPAA security rule assessments. Meanwhile, connected mobile device manufacturers also will want to evaluate the Guidance and update their products and practices both to meet customer demands and to mitigate their risks as manufacturers to potential product liability claims and associated claims likely to rise from breaches or other events that may result from the failure to address the security and other risks identified in the Guidance as well as, when applicable, their specific business associate risk under HIPAA.

    To accomplish this, impacted health care providers, manufacturers and other responsible parties generally will want to assess and confirm within the scope of attorney-client privilege the compliance of the ePHI safeguards of their current connected medical devices as well as require documented verification that any connected medical devices not yet deployed take into account these new standards.  To the extent that deficiencies exist in the adherence of currently in use connected medical devices, HIPAA covered entities and their business associates should consult with qualified legal counsel experienced in addressing these HIPAA compliance and risk management concerns about the defensibility and exposures potential arising from the continued use of the devices, if any, and develop an appropriate compliance and risk management plan accordingly.

    About the Author

    Recognized repeatedly 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, health and other benefit, workforce and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    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 employer, associations, government and other health benefit sponsors and administrators, 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, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry, 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.

    Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design and reform programs 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. supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    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 extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending 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.

    Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns.

    Ms. Stamer helps health industry, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients design, document and enforce plans, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors and suppliers; Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other private payer and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, 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 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.

    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 compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, privacy and data security, 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.

    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; a 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 (469) 767-8872 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.

    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.


    HIPAA Lessons Every Health Plan, Health Care Provider & Business Associate Should Learn From Bankrupt FileFax’s HIPAA Settlement

    February 16, 2018

    Health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates within the meaning of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) should heed the warnings contained in the new Resolution Agreement (FileFax Resolution Agreement) with former HIPAA business associate FileFax, Inc. announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) about their own need to ensure that they and their business associates comply with HIPAA’s business associate and other Privacy, Security, Breach Notification rules as well as the advisability of tightening up their risk management and oversight of business associates that handle protected health information (PHI).

    Significant for business associates as what appears to be the first announced resolution agreement with a business associate directly charged by OCR with violating HIPAA and the second resolution agreement pursued and reached with a HIPAA-regulated entity in bankruptcy, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement OCR announced February 13, 2018 also contains critical lessons for Covered Entities about their dealings with their own business associates when read in conjunction with the April, 2017 resolution agreement the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH) agreed to resolve OCR charges CCDC, as a Covered Entity, violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to act as its business associate without adequately complying with HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

    With widespread media coverage over large scale breaches of health care and other sensitive information placing further pressure upon OCR and other governmental agencies to act to protect Americans’ privacy and data fueling even greater demands for OCR and other agencies to take meaningful action to enforce HIPAA and other privacy and data security requirements, health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can expect OCR and other agencies to continue to turn up the heat on investigation and enforcement of HIPAA compliance.

    In the face of these developments, Covered Entities, their business associates and those responsible for their leadership and operations need to recognize and take the necessary steps both effectively to manage their own HIPAA compliance and risk management as well as to anticipate and make provision to deal with the likelihood that they may face HIPAA responsibilities, exposures and other fallout from their own or another business partner’s breach of PHI or other sensitive data or other HIPAA violations, bankruptcy or other business distress, or other compliance or business event.

    HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

    The Privacy Rule requires that Covered Entities and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of PHI.  As part of these requirements, Covered Entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, Covered Entities and business associates also must enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the Covered Entity. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that Covered Entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

    Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil monetary penalties or even criminal penalties.  Pursuant to amendments to HIPAA enacted as part of the HITECH Act, civil penalties typically do not apply to violations punished under the criminal penalty rules of HIPAA set forth in Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C § 1320d-6 (Section 1177).

    Resolution Agreements the just announced FileFax Resolution Agreement allow Covered Entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA for HIPAA violations through a negotiated settlement process.  As amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both Covered Entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016, the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

    • A minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations which the CE or BA “did not know, and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known” about using “the business care and prudence expected from a person seeking to satisfy a legal requirement under similar circumstances;”
    • A minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations for “reasonable cause” which do not rise to the level of “willful neglect” where “reasonable cause” means the “circumstances that would make it unreasonable for the Covered Entity, despite the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence, to comply with the violated Privacy Rule requirement;”
    • A minimum penalty of $10,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect,” defined as “the conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference to the obligation to comply” with the requirement or prohibition; and
    • A minimum penalty of $50,000 and a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect” not remedied within 30 days of the date that the Covered Entity or BA knew or should have known of the violation.

    For continuing violations such as failing to implement a required BAA, OCR can treat each day of noncompliance as a separate violation.  However, sanctions under each of these tiers generally are subject to a maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for violations of identical requirements or prohibitions during a calendar year.  For violations such as the failure to implement and maintain a required BAA where more than one Covered Entity bears responsibility for the violation, OCR an impose Civil Monetary Penalties against each culpable party. OCR considers a variety of mitigating and aggravating facts and circumstances when arriving at the amount of the penalty within each of these applicable tiers to impose.

    In addition to these potential civil liability exposures, Covered Entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  The criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

    • A fine of up to $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;
    • If the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; and
    • If the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine of up to $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

    Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

    FileFax, Inc.  Breach & Resolution Agreement

    While Congress amended the Civil Monetary Penalty provisions of HIPAA enforced by OCR to make many of the requirements and Civil Monetary Penalty sanctions of HIPAA directly enforceable by OCR against business associates as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the FileFax Resolution Agreement appears to be the first HIPAA resolution agreement with a business associate announced by OCR.

    Indeed, OCR’s enforcement action that resulted in the FileFax Resolution Agreement would never have occurred had FileFax, Inc. not become involved in handling medical records containing PHI in the capacity of a business associate for Covered Entities.

    Before filing for bankruptcy in 2016, FileFax, Inc. advertised it provided HIPAA-compliant storage, maintenance, and delivery of medical records for HIPAA Covered Entities including Illinois based health care provider CCDC, which entered into a resolution agreement with OCR in April, 2017 to resolve OCR charges that it violated HIPAA by allowing FileFax, Inc. to handle PHI without fulfilling HIPAA’s business associate agreement requirements.

    Like the CCDC Resolution Agreement, the FileFax, Inc. Resolution Agreement resulted from an investigation of FileFax, Inc. that OCR began in response to a February 10, 2015 anonymous complaint filed with OCR about FileFax, Inc. about deficiencies in its delivery of these HIPAA services in its capacity as a business associate to Covered Entities. The complaint to OCR alleged that FileFax, Inc. violated these requirements because an individual transported medical records obtained from FileFax, Inc. to a shredding and recycling facility to sell on February 6 and 9, 2015.

    OCR’s investigation of the complaint against FileFax, Inc. confirmed that an individual had left medical records of approximately 2,150 patients at the shredding and recycling facility, and that these medical records contained patients’ PHI.  OCR’s investigation additionally found that between January 28, 2015, and February 14, 2015, FileFax, Inc. impermissibly disclosed the PHI of 2,150 individuals by leaving the PHI in an unlocked truck in the FileFax, Inc.  parking lot, or by granting permission to an unauthorized person to remove the PHI from FileFax, Inc. and leaving the PHI unsecured outside the FileFax, Inc. facility.

    After OCR commenced its investigation of the complaint, FileFax, Inc. was placed into bankruptcy and a receiver was appointed to liquidate FileFax, Inc.’s assets for distribution to creditors and others in 2016.  Despite the bankruptcy, OCR continued to pursue enforcement against FileFax, Inc. for the HIPAA violations it found through its investigation.  On February 13, 2018, OCR announced that that the receiver on behalf of FileFax, Inc. had agreed in the FileFax Resolution Agreement to pay a $100,000 monetary settlement out of the bankruptcy estate and to arrange to properly store and dispose of remaining medical records found at FileFax, Inc.’s facility in compliance with HIPAA to resolve OCR’s HIPAA charges against FileFax, Inc.

    OCR Previously Sanctioned Covered Entity For Involvement With FileFax, Inc.

    Beyond affirming the exposure business associates to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for violating HIPAA, the FileFax Resolution Agreement in conjunction with OCR’s previously announced April 20, 2017 resolution agreement (CCDC Resolution Agreement) with CCDC also demonstrates the need for Covered Entities to recognize that their organizations are likely to face HIPAA investigations or enforcement from HIPAA violations by or OCR audits or investigations of the conduct of their business associates.

    In fact, this is exactly what happened to CCDC.  A small, Illinois based Covered Entity, CCDC used FileFax, Inc. to store and dispose of medical records.  As a consequence of the FileFax, Inc. investigation, OCR conducted a compliance review of CCDC.  OCR reports that its compliance review revealed that while CCDC had disclosed to and allowed FileFax, Inc. to store records containing PHI for CCDC since in 2003, neither party could produce a signed business associate agreement (BAA) prior to October 12, 2015.   As a consequence, OCR charged CCDC with violating HIPAA by disclosing PHI to FileFax, Inc. in violation of HIPAA’s business associate requirements.

    To resolve its exposure to potentially much greater civil monetary penalties associated with this charge, CCDC agreed under the CCDC Resolution Agreement to pay OCR a $31,000 resolution payment and take a variety of corrective actions.  Beyond requiring CCDC to implement and maintain  written business associate agreements before allowing business associates to possess or access PHI, the corrective action plan imposed as part of the CCDC Resolution Agreement also expressly requires CCDC to promptly investigate information of a possible violation of its HIPAA policies and procedures by  a “workforce member,” which the Privacy Rule defines to include a business associate, and if the investigation reveals a violation, to report the violation and corrective action taken to OCR.

    OCR Enforces HIPAA Against Covered Entities & Business Associates In Bankruptcy

    OCR’s announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement also is significant in its reaffirmation of OCR to its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, even if the HIPAA-violating Covered Entity or business associate goes bankruptcy.

    OCR’s enforcement action against FileFax, Inc. despite its bankruptcy and its successful negotiation of the FileFax Resolution Agreement within the bankruptcy should alert Covered Entities and business associates that OCR does not consider the bankruptcy of a Covered Entity or business associate as an obstacle to OCR enforcement against Covered Entities or business associates that violate HIPAA.   The seriousness of OCR’s commitment to enforcement, even in the face of bankruptcy is driven home by its announcement of the FileFax Resolution Agreement on the heels of its December, 2017 announcement of its first OCR HIPAA resolution agreement secured with the formal approval of a bankruptcy court, a resolution agreement (21CO Resolution Agreement) against bankrupt health care provider, 21CO.

    Secured with bankruptcy court approval, the 21CO Resolution Agreement resolved potentially much larger civil monetary penalties that the Fort Myers, Florida based provider of cancer care services and radiation oncology could have faced for alleged HIPAA breaches OCR charged it committed in connection with its failure to adequately act to prevent and respond to hacking and misappropriation of records containing sensitive electronic protected health information (ePHI) of up to 2,213597 individuals.

    The OCR charges against 21CO arose from an OCR investigation commenced after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified 21CO on November 13, 2015 and a second time on December 13, 2015 than unauthorized third party illegally obtained 21CO sensitive patient information and produced 21CO patient files purchased by a FBI informant.  As part of its internal investigation, 21CO hired a third party forensic auditing firm in November 2015. 21CO determined that the attacker may have accessed 21CO’s network SQL database as early as October 3, 2015, through Remote Desktop Protocol from an Exchange Server within 21CO’s network. 21CO determined that it is possible that 2,213,597 individuals may have been affected by the impermissible access to their names, social security numbers, physicians’ names, diagnoses, treatment and insurance information.

    Although it knew of the breaches in November and December, 2015, 21CO waited more than three months after the FBI notified it of the breaches before it sent HIPAA or other breach notifications about the data breach to patients or notified investors in March, 2016. Its March 4, 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K on Data Security Incident (Breach 8-K) states 21CO delayed notification at the request of the FBI to avoid interfering in the criminal investigation of the breach.

    When announcing the breach, 21CO provided all individuals affected by the breach with a free one-year subscription to the Experian ProtectMyID fraud protection service. At that time, 21CO said it had no evidence that any patient information actually had been misused.  However some victims of the breach subsequently have claimed being victimized by a variety of scams since the breach in news reports and lawsuits about the breach.

    At the time of the breach and its March 4, 2016 announcement of the breach, 21CO already was working to resolve other compliance issues.  On December 16, 2015, 21CO announced that a 21CO subsidiary had agreed to pay $19.75 million to the United States and $528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and comply with a corporate integrity agreement related to a qui tam action in which it was accused of making false claims to Medicare and other federal health programs. See 21CO 8-K Re: Entry into a Material Definitive Agreement (December 22, 2015).  Among other things, the corporate integrity agreement required by that settlement required 21CO to appoint a compliance officer and take other steps to maintain compliance with federal health care laws.  In addition, five days after releasing the March 4, 2017 Breach 8-K, 21CO notified investors that its subsidiary, 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (“21C”), had agreed to pay $37.4 million to settle health care fraud law charges relating to billing and other protocols of certain staff in the utilization of state-of-the-art radiation dose calculation system used by radiation oncologists called GAMMA.  See 21CO 8-K Re: GAMMA Settlement March 9, 2016 ;  See also United States Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against 21st Century Oncology for $34.7 Million.

    Based on OCR’s subsequent investigation into these breaches, OCR found:

    • 21CO impermissibly disclosed certain PHI of 2,213,597 of its patients in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a);
    • 21CO failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) held by 21CO in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
    • 21CO failed to implement certain security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with 45 C.F.R. § 164.306(A) in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(B);
    •  21CO failed to implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports as required by 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D);
    • 21CO disclosed protected health information to a third party vendors, acting as its business associates, without obtaining satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate agreement in violation of HIPAA’s business associate rule requirements under 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(e) and 164.308(b)(3).

    In return for OCR’s agreement not to further pursue charges or penalties relating to the breach investigation, the Resolution Agreement entered into with the approval of the Bankruptcy Court requires that 21CO pay OCR a $2.3 million Resolution Amount and implement to OCR’s satisfaction a corrective action plan that among other things requires that 21CO complete a detailed series of corrective actions to the satisfaction of OCR.

    In addition to the OCR investigation that lead to the 21CO Resolution Agreement announced by OCR on December 28, 2017, 21CO experienced other fallout following its March 4, 2016 public disclosure of the breach.  Not surprisingly, the breach notification led to a multitude of class-action civil lawsuits by breach victims and shareholders.  See, e.g., 16 Data Breach Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against 21st Century Oncology Consolidated; 21st Century Oncology data breach prompts multiple lawsuits.  Reports of spoofing and other misleading contacts made to 21CO patients following the breach prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a specific notice alerting victims about potential false breach notifications and other misleading contacts.  See April 4, 2016 FTC Announcement Re: 21st Century Oncology breach exposes patients’ info.

    These and other developments also had significant consequences on 21CO’s financial status and leadership.  By March 31, 2015, 21CO notified the SEC and investors that it needed added time to complete its financial statements.  Subsequent SEC filings document its restatement of financial statements, the departure of board members and other leaders, default on credit terms, and ultimately its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on May 25, 2017.

    Because 21CO sought bankruptcy court protection from the fallout of its HIPAA breaches and other compliance and business issues, the 21CO Resolution Agreement required bankruptcy court approval. Funds for payment of the required $2.3 million resolution payment and other charges associated with the investigation apparently are being provided in part from breach liability insurance coverage provided under a policy issued by Beazley Insurance, as the Bankruptcy Court order directs Beazley Breach Response Policy No. W140E2150301 to make immediate payment to the OCR of the resolution amount and the payment of fees incurred by 21CO in connection with regulatory defense issues.

    HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement & Other Risks Growing 

    Covered Entities, their business associates, their leaders, investors and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FileFax, CCDC, 21CO and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement and that their exposure to investigation and enforcement is likely to continue to rise in the face of growing public and Congressional concern about privacy and data security.

    While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, Covered Entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing and that this trend is likely to continue if not increase.

    While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

    While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments against Covered Entities and with the FileFax Resolution Agreement announcement, now also business associates for violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty);  1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments; $5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

    The experiences of FileFax, Inc., CCDC, 21CO and these other OCR HIPAA Resolution Agreements provide strong evidence that that health plans and other Covered Entities and their business associates can anticipate that OCR will continue to zealously investigate HIPAA breaches and other HIPAA violations.  Aside from OCR’s recurrent affirmations of its commitment to HIPAA enforcement, Covered Entities, their business associates and their leaders must recognize that public and Congressional privacy and data security concerns fueled by the ever growing stream of massive data breaches at Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses are creating additional pressure upon OCR and other agencies to pursue even stronger and more aggressive HIPAA oversight and enforcement. Amid this growing concern, OCR, the FTC and other federal and state agencies with regulatory or enforcement authority over HIPAA or other data security and privacy concerns face increasing scrutiny and pressure to take meaningful action to regulate and enforce HIPAA and other laws intended to protect sensitive data even as private litigants enjoy increasing success in obtaining civil judgments from damages resulting from breaches of their PHI or other sensitive personal information using an expanding arsenal of legal theories of recovery.  In the face of these growing concerns about privacy and data security, OCR can be expected to continue, if not increase its HIPAA compliance enforcement and oversight by OCR.

    Furthermore, the experiences of FileFax, Inc., 21CO, CCDC and other Covered Entities and business associates that already have become the subject of OCR investigation or enforcement also reflect that HIPAA resolution payments or penalties paid to OCR and other costs and expenses associated with the defense and resolution of OCR’s investigations and enforcement actions typically only a portion of the financial and other business consequences that Covered Entities or business associates might expect to incur as a consequence of a breach of PHI or other substantial HIPAA violation or charge.

    Beyond their potential HIPAA enforcement exposures following a HIPAA covered data breach or other violation, health care or other Covered Entities and members of their workforce experiencing breaches of ePHI or other PHI often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement relating their data breaches under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other laws.  They or members of their workforce may face licensing board, credentialing, accreditation, contractual or other investigations or sanctions.  Victims, business partners, investors and others often bring civil litigation to address losses or other injures associated with the breach or other misconduct.  In addition, losses and disruptions in patients, plan member, vendor, investor, employee, management and other business relationships, and other business disruptions also are common.

    Where the breach of other HIPAA violation involves a health plan, health plans, their fiduciaries and sponsors also need to give due consideration to the implications and exposures that might arise under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Beyond the direct exposure of their health plan to HIPAA and other compliance liabilities, health plan fiduciaries generally will want to consider whether their fiduciary responsibility under ERISA requires that prudent or other steps be taken to safeguard health plan information and maintain and administer their health plan in accordance with HIPAA and other laws.  As a consequence, fiduciaries generally will want to ensure that they take and document prudent steps to evaluate, monitor and address HIPAA and other privacy and data security safeguards to minimize not only the liability exposures of their health plans, but also to help mitigate their own potential personal liability exposures that could arise or be asserted in response to a HIPAA breach or other HIPAA violation involving their health plans.

    In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, Covered Entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.  In addition to reaffirming the need for Covered Entities and their business associates to take the necessary steps to maintain and effectively demonstrate the adequacy of their own HIPAA compliance, the CCDC and FileFax Resolution Agreements alert Covered Entities and business associates of the advisability of greater oversight and risk management of their dealings and relationships with the other Covered Entities and business associates with access to or involvement with their PHI or other critical functions.

    In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA and its business associate and other privacy, data security and breach notification and response requirements, but also maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.  The bankruptcies and other financial and business fallout of HIPAA or other data breaches experienced by FileFax, Inc. 21CO and other HIPAA-covered and non-HIPAA regulated entities also makes clear that Covered Entities and business associates should anticipate that their own fallout from a breach or other HIPAA event and resulting responsibilities and consequences could be impacted by their own or a business associate’s financial distress or bankruptcy.  Beyond the risk that their own or another entity’s breach, compliance issues, or other financial or business issues could trigger breach investigation, notice or other responsibilities for their own organizations, Covered Entities, business associates and their leaders also should evaluate and revise their HIPAA risk assessments and security plans to address foreseeable threats to the availability, access, retention and security of PHI and associated records and systems.

    The Bankruptcy Court’s order to 21CO’s cyber liability insurer to pay the resolution payment required under the 21CO Resolution Agreement and other costs of investigation and defense also strongly suggests that the purchase of insurance and other arrangements for funding costs of defense or settlement should be included in these evaluations.

    In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with Covered Entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the Covered Entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, Covered Entities and their business associates should recognize the advisability of taking meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

    As part of these efforts, Covered Entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well-documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

    As part of this process, Covered Entities and business associates should maintain strong and ongoing processes for assessing and monitoring the adequacy of their policies and practices.  In addition to ensuring that their organization has a comprehensive risk management and compliance assessment, Covered Entities and business associates need to conduct documented periodic audits and spot HIPAA audits and assessments.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include 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.

    In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization. Testing and analysis should be conducted on a regular basis.  Documented reassessments and testing should be performed in response to software, hardware or other changes or events that could impact security or other operations.  Beyond security, attention also should cover business or system interruption including losses that might occur from the bankruptcy, termination of business or other disruptions of business associates or other parties.  Attention should be paid both to protecting access and use of PHI and ePHI in the course of business as well as the transmission, transport, storage and destruction of records or systems containing such information.

    Careful attention should be devoted to ensuring that business associate agreements   as well and other processes provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to all PHI created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

    Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

    Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

    While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

    • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
    • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
    • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
    • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

    Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, Covered Entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

    About The Author

    Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, insurers and financial services, and other clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

    Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. 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 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 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 advice 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.

     


    Fresenius Medical Care Pays $3.5 Million HIPAA Settlement

    February 2, 2018

    Fresenius Medical Care North America (FMCNA) is paying $3.5 million to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and adopting a comprehensive corrective action plan, under a voluntary resolution agreement that settles FMCNA exposures to OCR for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules OCR asserts it found from an investigation it conducted into five separate HIPAA breach reports FMCNA filed in January 21, 2017.

    Widespread publicity and fallout from data breaches involving Equifax, Blue Cross, the Internal Revenue Service and many other giant organizations have ramped up public awareness and government concern about health care and other data security.  The resulting pressure is adding additional fuel to the already substantial concern of OCR and other agencies about compliance with HIPAA and other data security and breach laws.  Like the $2.3 million HIPAA resolution agreement OCR announced with now bankrupt radiation oncology and cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (21CO) earlier this year,  see, e.g., $23M Penalty Small Part of 21st Century’s Data Breach Fallout; Offers Data Breach Lessons For Other Businesses, the growing list of OCR resolution agreements and other enforcement actions against FMCNA, 21CO and other covered entities and other legal and market fallout that covered entities and other organizations experience following the announcement of breaches or other security deficiencies make the case for why HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (covered entities) must prioritize HIPAA compliance and other medical and other data security protection, privacy and risk management a top priority in 2018.

    HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

    The Privacy Rule requires that health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their vendors that qualify as “business associates” under HIPAA comply with detailed requirements concerning the protection, use, access, destruction and disclosure of protected health information.  As part of these requirements, covered entities and their business associates must adopt, administer and enforce detailed policies and practices, assess, monitor and maintain the security of electronic protected health information (ePHI) and other protected health information, provide notices of privacy practices and breaches of “unsecured” ePHI, afford individuals that are the subject of protected health information certain rights and comply with other requirements as specified by the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  In addition, covered entities and business associates also must enter into a written and signed business associate agreement that contains the elements specified in Privacy Rule § 164.504(e) before the business associate creates, uses, accesses or discloses PHI of the covered entity. Furthermore, the Privacy Rule includes extensive documentation and keeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years and to provide that documentation to OCR upon demand.

    Violations of the Privacy Rule can carry stiff civil or even criminal penalties.  Pursuant to amendments to HIPAA enacted as part of the HITECH Act, civil penalties typically do not apply to violations punished under the criminal penalty rules of HIPAA set forth in Social Security Act , 42 U.S.C § 1320d-6 (Section 1177).

    Resolution Agreements like the $3.2 million FMCNA resolution agreement allow covered entities and business associates to resolve potentially substantially larger civil monetary penalty liabilities that OCR can impose under the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA.  As amended by the HITECH Act, the civil enforcement provisions of HIPAA empower OCR to impose Civil Monetary Penalties on both covered entities and BAs for violations of any of the requirements of the Privacy or Security Rules.  The penalty ranges for civil violations depends upon the circumstances associated with the violations and are subject to upward adjustment for inflation.  As most recently adjusted here effective September 6, 2016,  the following currently are the progressively increasing Civil Monetary Penalty tiers:

    • A minimum penalty of $100 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations which the CE or BA “did not know, and by exercising reasonable diligence would not have known” about using “the business care and prudence expected from a person seeking to satisfy a legal requirement under similar circumstances;”
    • A minimum penalty of $1,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations for “reasonable cause” which do not rise to the level of “willful neglect” where “reasonable cause” means the “circumstances that would make it unreasonable for the covered entity, despite the exercise of ordinary business care and prudence, to comply with the violated Privacy Rule requirement;”
    • A minimum penalty of $10,000 and a maximum penalty of $50,000 per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect,” defined as “the conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference to the obligation to comply” with the requirement or prohibition; and
    • A minimum penalty of $50,000 and a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per violation, for violations attributed to “willful neglect” not remedied within 30 days of the date that the covered entity or BA knew or should have known of the violation.

    For continuing violations such as failing to implement a required BAA, OCR can treat each day  of noncompliance as a separate violation.  However, sanctions under each of these tiers generally are subject to a maximum penalty of $1,500,000 for violations of identical requirements or prohibitions during a calendar year.  For violations such as the failure to implement and maintain a required BAA where more than one covered entity bears responsibility for the violation, OCR an impose Civil Monetary Penalties against each culpable party. OCR considers a variety of mitigating and aggravating facts and circumstances when arriving at the amount of the penalty within each of these applicable tiers to impose.

    In addition to these potential civil liability exposures, however, covered entities, their business associates and other individuals or organizations that wrongfully use, access or disclose electronic or other protected health information also can face civil liability under various circumstances.  The criminal enforcement provisions of HIPAA authorize the Justice Department to prosecute a person who knowingly in violation of the Privacy Rule (1) uses or causes to be used a unique health identifier; (2) obtains individually identifiable health information relating to an individual; or (3) discloses individually identifiable health information to another person, punishable by the following criminal sanctions and penalties:

    • A fine of up to $50,000, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both;
    • If the offense is committed under false pretenses, a fine of up to $100,000, imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both; and
    • If the offense is committed with intent to sell, transfer, or use individually identifiable health information for commercial advantage, personal gain, or malicious harm, a fine of up to $250,000, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

    Because HIPAA Privacy Rule criminal violations are Class A Misdemeanors or felonies, Covered Entities and business associates should include HIPAA compliance in their Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance Programs and practices and need to be concerned both about criminal exposure for their own direct violations, as well as imputed organizational liability for violations committed by their employees or agents under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, particularly where their failure to implement or administer these required compliance policies and practices or failure to properly investigate or redress potential violations enables, perpetuates or covers up the criminal breach.

    Fresenius Breach, Charges & Settlement Agreement Illustrate Civil Exposures

    The FMCNA resolution agreement is another example of a growing list of resolution agreements various HIPAA covered entities have entered into to resolve their exposure to potentially greater liability should OCR assess civil monetary penalties under HIPAA’s civil sanction scheme.

    The breach reports filed on January 21, 2017 reported five separate breach incidents occurring between February 23, 2012 and July 18, 2012 implicating the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of five separate FMCNA owned covered entities (FMCNA covered entities):  Bio-Medical Applications of Florida, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Duval Facility in Jacksonville, Florida (FMC Duval Facility); Bio-Medical Applications of Alabama, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Magnolia Grove in Semmes, Alabama (FMC Magnolia Grove Facility); Renal Dimensions, LLC d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Ak-Chin in Maricopa, Arizona (FMC Ak-Chin Facility); Fresenius Vascular Care Augusta, LLC (FVC Augusta); and WSKC Dialysis Services, Inc. d/b/a Fresenius Medical Care Blue Island Dialysis (FMC Blue Island Facility).

    OCR concluded its investigation showed the breaches resulted because 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.  OCR also concluded:

    • The FMCNA covered entities impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of patients by providing unauthorized access for a purpose not permitted by the Privacy Rule.
    • FMC Ak-Chin failed to implement policies and procedures to address security incidents.
    • FMC Magnolia Grove failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain ePHI into and out of a facility; and the movement of these items within the facility.
    • FMC Duval and FMC Blue Island failed to implement policies and procedures to safeguard their facilities and equipment therein from unauthorized access, tampering, and theft, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.
    • FMC Magnolia Grove and FVC Augusta failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI, when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so under the circumstances.

    In addition to a $3.5 million monetary settlement, a corrective action plan requires the FMCNA covered entities to complete a risk analysis and risk management plan, revise policies and procedures on device and media controls as well as facility access controls, develop an encryption report, and educate its workforce on policies and procedures.

     

    HIPAA Enforcement A Growing Risk

    Covered entities, their business associates and members of their workforce need to recognize that the FMCNA and other resolution agreements are part of a growing trend, rather than isolated incidents of enforcement.

    While civil monetary penalty enforcement remains much more common than criminal prosecution, covered entities, their business associates and members of their workforce must understand that HIPAA enforcement and resulting liability is growing.

    While Department of Justice federal criminal prosecutions and convictions under HIPAA remain relatively rare, they occur and are growing.  See e.g.,  Former Hospital Employee Sentenced for HIPAA Violations (Texas man sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for obtaining protected health information with the intent to use it for personal gain); Three Life Sentences Imposed On Man Following Convictions For Drug Trafficking, Kidnapping, Using Firearms and HIPAA Violations (drug king pin gets multiple 10 year consecutive prison terms for unauthorized access to private health information in violation of HIPAA; his health care worker friend sentenced for accessing electronic medical files and reporting information to him); Former Therapist Charged In HIPAA Case; Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former assisted living facility worker gets 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to wrongful disclosure of HIPAA protected information and other charges); Hefty Prison Sentence in ID Theft Case (former medical supply company owner sentenced to 12 years for HIPAA violations and fraud).  While the harshest sentences tend to be associated with health care fraud or other criminal conduct, lighter criminal sentences are imposed against defendants in other cases as well. See e.g., Sentencing In S.C. Medicaid Breach Case (former South Carolina state employee sentenced to three years’ probation, plus community service, for sending personal information about more than 228,000 Medicaid recipients to his personal e-mail account.); HIPAA Violation Leads To Prison Term (former UCLA Healthcare System surgeon gets four months in prison after admitting he illegally read private electronic medical records of celebrities and others.)

    While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare and OCR to date only actually has assessed HIPAA civil monetary penalties against certain Covered Entities for violating HIPAA in a couple isolated instances, the growing list of multi-million dollar resolution payments that FMCNA and other covered entities caught violating HIPAA make clear that HIPAA enforcement is both meaningful and growing.   See e.g., Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules ($3.2 million Children’s Medical Center HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty); 1st HIPAA Privacy Civil Penalty of $4.3 Million Signals CMS Serious About HIPAA Enforcement;  $400K HIPAA Settlement Shows Need To Conduct Timely & Appropriate Risk Assessments$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit.  For more examples, also see here.

    Coming on the heels of  an already lengthy and growing list of OCR high dollar HIPAA enforcement actions, the FMCNA and other resolution agreements and civil monetary penalties these and other announced enforcement actions clearly reflect that OCR takes HIPAA compliance seriously and stands ready to impose substantial penalties when it finds violations in connection with breach notice investigations.  Viewed in the context of these and other enforcement actions, the FMCNA Resolution Agreement and others clearly reflect the time for complacency in HIPAA compliance and leniency in HIPAA HIPAA enforcement are passed.  Rather, these and other enforcement actions make clear why health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates must make HIPAA compliance a priority now.

    Covered entities and business associates also should recognize their potential responsibilities and risks for breaches or other improper conduct concerning patient or other sensitive personal financial information, trade secrets or other data under a wide range of laws beyond HIPAA and its state law equivalents.  As documented by the media coverage of the legal and business woes of Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses have and continue to incur from data breaches within their organizations, health care or other covered entities experiencing breaches often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other rules as well as business losses and disruptions; civil litigation from breach victims, shareholders and investors, and business partners as well as OCR, FTC, and state data security regulation enforcement.  Amid this growing concern, OCR has indicated that it intends to continue to diligently both seek to support and encourage voluntary compliance by covered entities and their business associates and  investigate and enforce HIPAA against HIPAA covered entities and their business associates that fail to adequately safeguard PHI and ePHI in accordance with HIPAA. In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, covered entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.

    In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with covered entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the covered entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also comply with data security, privacy and other information protection requirements arising under other laws, regulations, and contracts, as well as the practical business risks that typically follow the announcement of a breach.  Considering these risks, covered entities and their business associates must recognize and take meaningful, documented action to verify their existing compliance and ongoing oversight to ensure their organizations can demonstrate appropriate action to maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

    In response to these growing risks and concerns, covered entities and their business associates should ensure that they have conducted, and maintain and are ready to produce appropriate policies and procedures backed up by a well documented, up-to-date industry wide risk assessment of their organization’s susceptibility to breaches or other misuse of electronic or other protected health information.  The starting point of these efforts should be to adopt and enforce updated written policies, procedures, technical and physical safeguards, processes and training to prevent the improper use, access, destruction or disclosure of patient PHI.  Processes also should create, retain and be designed to cost effectively track, capture, and retain both all protected health information, its use, access, protection, destruction and disclosure, and the requisite supportive documentation supporting the appropriateness of those action to position the organization  cost-effectively and quickly to fulfill required accounting, reporting and other needs in the event of a data breach, audit, participant inquiry or other event.

    As part of this process, covered entities and business associates should start by reviewing and updating their policies, HIPAA audits and assessments and other documentation and processes.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations 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.

    In connection with these efforts, the enforcement actions make clear that Covered Entities and business associates should adopt, implement and monitor PHI privacy, and security on an entity wide basis.  These efforts should include both general policies, practices and procedures as well as specifically tailored policies, processes and training to protect PHI and preserve HIPAA compliance throughout their organization  as well as the business associate agreements and other processes to provide for HIPAA compliance with respect to protected health information created, used, accessed or disclosed to business associates or others not part of their direct workforce or operating outside the core boundaries of their facilities.

    Covered entities and their business associates also must recognize and design their compliance efforts and documentation recognizing that HIPAA compliance is a living process, which require both constant diligence about changes in systems or other events that may require reevaluation or adjustments, whether from changes in software, systems or processes or external threats.

    Because the cost of responding to and investigating breaches or other compliance concern can be quite burdensome, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to pursue options to plan for and minimize potential expenses in the design and administration of their programs as well as to minimize and cover the potentially extraordinary costs of breach or other compliance investigation and results that commonly arise following a breach or other compliance event.  As a part of this planning, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.

    While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

    • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
    • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
    • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
    • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

    Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, covered entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

    About The Author

    Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

    Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. 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 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 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 advice 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.


    Bankrupt Oncology Provider’s $2.3M Settlement Payment & Other HIPAA Breach Consequences Shows Why To Prioritize HIPAA Compliance In 2018

    December 29, 2017

    The just-announced agreement $2.3 million (Resolution Amount) settlement by now bankrupt radiation oncology and cancer care provider 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (21CO)  is paying to settle Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules violation charges and other continuing post-breach fallout that helped push 21CO to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection demonstrates again why HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (covered entities) must make HIPAA compliance and risk management a high priority in 2018.

    Distinctive as the first HIPAA resolution agreement requiring bankruptcy court approval  and for the bankruptcy court’s order including a direction to the covered entity’s cyber liability insurer to pay the Resolution Payment and other investigation defense expenses, the 21CO resolution agreement resolves potential civil monetary penalty exposures the Fort Myers, Florida based provider of cancer care services and radiation oncology could have faced from the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) charges it violated HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules arising from the hacking and misappropriation of records containing sensitive electronic protected health information (ePHI) of up to 2,213597 individuals.

    When their own 2018 HIPAA or other compliance investigation activities or planning HIPAA compliance and risk management activities, covered entities and their business associates and their leaders should use 21CO’s painful post-breach lessons experience to minimize their own HIPAA breach exposures, as well as consider how amendments to Internal Revenue Code Section 162(f) might impact the tax deductibility of certain compliance expenditures.

     21CO HIPAA Breaches & Fallout

    The OCR charges against 21CO arose from an OCR investigation commenced after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) notified 21CO on November 13, 2015 and a second time on December 13, 2015 than unauthorized third-party illegally obtained 21CO sensitive patient information and produced 21CO patient files purchased by a FBI informant.  As part of its internal investigation, 21CO hired a third party forensic auditing firm in November 2015. 21CO determined that the attacker may have accessed 21CO’s network SQL database as early as October 3, 2015, through Remote Desktop Protocol from an Exchange Server within 21CO’s network. 21CO determined that it is possible that 2,213,597 individuals may have been affected by the impermissible access to their names, social security numbers, physicians’ names, diagnoses, treatment and insurance information.

    Although it knew of the breaches in November and December, 2015, 21CO delayed notifying patients of the data breach for more than three months after the FBI notified it of the breaches before it sent HIPAA or other breach notifications about the data breach to patients or notified investors in March, 2016. Its March 4, 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission 8-K on Data Security Incident (Breach 8-K) states 21CO delayed notification at the request of the FBI to avoid interfering in the criminal investigation of the breach.

    When announcing the breach, 21CO provided all individuals affected by the breach with a free one-year subscription to the Experian ProtectMyID fraud protection service. At that time, 21CO said it had no evidence that any patient information actually had been misused.  However victims of the breach subsequently are claiming being victimized by a variety of scams since the breach in news reports and lawsuits about the breach.

    At the time of the breach and its March 4, 2016 announcement of the breach, 21CO already was working to resolve other compliance issues.  On December 16, 2015, 21CO announced that a 21CO  subsidiary had agreed to pay $19.75 million to the United States and $528,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and comply with a corporate integrity agreement related to a qui tam action in which it was accused of making false claims to Medicare and other federal health programs. See 21CO 8-K Re: Entry into a Material Definitive Agreement (December 22, 2015).  Among other things, the corporate integrity agreement required by that settlement required 21CO to appoint a compliance officer and take other steps to maintain compliance with federal health care laws.  In addition, five days after releasing the March 4, 2017 Breach 8-K, 21CO notified investors that its subsidiary, 21st Century Oncology, Inc. (“21C”), had agreed to pay $37.4 million to settle health care fraud law charges relating to billing and other protocols of certain staff in the utilization of state-of-the-art radiation dose calculation system used by radiation oncologists called GAMMA.  See 21CO 8-K Re: GAMMA Settlement March 9, 2016 ;  See also United States Settles False Claims Act Allegations Against 21st Century Oncology for $34.7 Million.

    As the breeches impacted more than 500 individuals, 21CO’s HIPAA breaches were considered large breaches for purposes of the Breach Notification Rules.  It is the policy of OCR to investigate all large breach notifications filed under the HIPAA Breach Notification Rules.

    Based on OCR’s subsequent investigation into these breaches, OCR found:

    • 21CO impermissibly disclosed certain PHI of 2,213,597 of its patients in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a);
    • 21CO failed to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the electronic protected health information (ePHI) held by 21CO in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
    • 21CO failed to implement certain security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level to comply with 45 C.F.R. § 164.306(A) in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(B);
    •  21CO failed to implement procedures to regularly review records of information system activity, such as audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports as required by 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D);
    • 21CO disclosed protected health information to a third-party vendors, acting as its business associates, without obtaining satisfactory assurances in the form of a written business associate agreement in violation of HIPAA’s business associate rule requirements under 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(e) and 164.308(b)(3).

    The Resolution Agreement settles potential charges and exposures to potentially much higher civil monetary penalties that 21CO could have faced had OCR successfully prosecuted charges against 21CO for the breaches.   In return for OCR’s agreement not to further pursue charges or penalties relating to the breach investigation, the Resolution Agreement requires that 21CO pay OCR a $2.3 million Resolution Amount and implement to OCR’s satisfaction a corrective action plan that among other things requires that 21CO complete  the following corrective actions to the satisfaction of OCR:

    • To complete a risk analysis and risk management plan;
    • To revise its HIPAA policies and procedures regarding information system activity review to require the regular review of audit logs, access reports, and security incident tracking reports pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(D);
    • To revise its policies and procedures regarding access establishment and modification and termination pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(4)(ii)(C) and 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(3)(ii)(C) to include protocols for access to 21CO’s e-PHI by affiliated physicians, their practices, and their employees.
    • To distribute its policies to and educate its workforce on the updated and other HIPAA policies and procedures;
    • To provide OCR with an accounting of 21CO’s business associates that includes names of business associates, a description of services provided, a description of the business associate’s handling of 21CO’s PHI, the date services began and copies of the actual business associate agreement with each business associate; and
    • Submit an internal monitoring plan to OCR.

    In addition to  the OCR investigation that lead to the new HIPAA resolution agreement announced by OCR on December 28, 2017, 21CO experienced other fallout following its March 4, 2016 public disclosure of the breach.  Not surprisingly, the breach notification led to a multitude of class-action civil lawsuits by breach victims and shareholders.  See, e.g., 16 Data Breach Class Action Lawsuits Filed Against 21st Century Oncology Consolidated; 21st Century Oncology data breach prompts multiple lawsuits.  Reports of spoofing and other misleading contacts made to 21CO patients following the breach prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue a specific notice alerting victims about potential false breach notifications and other misleading contacts.  See April 4, 2016 FTC Announcement Re: 21st Century Oncology breach exposes patients’ info.

    These and other developments also had significant consequences on 21CO’s financial status and leadership.  By March 31, 2015, 21CO notified the SEC and investors that it needed added time to complete its financial statements.  Subsequent SEC filings document its restatement of financial statements, the departure of board members and other leaders,  default on credit terms, and ultimately its filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on May 25, 2017.

    Insurer Funding $2.3 Million Settlement Payment For Bankrupt 21CO

    The 21CO resolution agreement required bankruptcy court approval,  Funds for payment of the required $2.3 million resolution payment and other charges associated with the investigation apparently are being provided in part from breach liability insurance coverage provided under a policy issued by Beazley Insurance, as the Bankruptcy Court order directs Beazley Breach Response Policy No. W140E2150301 to make immediate payment to the OCR of the resolution amount and the payment of fees incurred by 21CO in connection with regulatory defense issues.

    Settlements Highlight Growing Risks Of Noncompliance, Lack Data Security

    One of a growing multitude of multimillion dollar HIPAA resolution agreements to avoid HIPAA civil monetary sanctions that OCR already has announced, the 21CO resolution agreement announcement also comes when a steady stream of reports of massive data breaches at Alteryx, eBay, Paypal owner TIO Networks, Uber, Equifax and a long list of other previously trusted prominent businesses are stoking government and public awareness and concern over health care and other data privacy and cybersecurity.  Beyond their potential HIPAA enforcement exposures, health care or other covered entities experiencing breaches often also face FTC or other government investigations and enforcement under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) and other federal or state identity theft, data privacy and security, electronic crimes and other rules as well as business losses and disruptions; civil litigation from breach victims, shareholders and investors, and business partners as well as OCR, FTC, and state data security regulation enforcement.  Amid this growing concern, OCR has indicated that it intends to continue to diligently both seek to support and encourage voluntary compliance by covered entities and their business associates and  investigate and enforce HIPAA against HIPAA covered entities and their business associates that fail to adequately safeguard PHI and ePHI in accordance with HIPAA. In the face of these growing risks and liabilities, covered entities and their business leaders face a strong imperative to clean up and maintain their HIPAA compliance and other data security to minimize their exposure to similar consequences.

    In light of these rises, leaders, investors, insurers, lenders and others involved with covered entities and their business associates should take steps to verify that the covered entities and their business associates not only maintain compliance with HIPAA, but also maintain appropriate practices, insurance and other safeguards to prevent, respond to and mitigate exposures in the event of a breach of protected health information or other sensitive data.

    As a part of this planning, covered entities and their business associates also generally will want to add consideration of changes to federal tax rules on the deductibility of compliance penalty and other related compliance expenditures.  While the Internal Revenue Code traditionally has prohibited businesses and individuals from deducting penalties, fines and other expenditures arising from violations of federal or state laws under Section 162(f) of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 13306 of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Creation Act creates a new exception for amounts  (other than amounts paid or incurred any amount paid or incurred as reimbursement to the government or entity for the costs of any investigation or litigation) that a taxpayer establishes meet the following requirements:

    • Constitute restitution (including remediation of property) for damage or harm which was or may be caused by the violation of any law or the potential violation of any law, or
    • Are paid to come into compliance with any law which was violated or otherwise involved in the investigation or inquiry into a violation or potential violation of any law;
    • Are identified as restitution or as an amount paid to come into compliance with such law, as the case may be, in the court order or settlement agreement, and
    • In the case of any amount of restitution for failure to pay any tax imposed under this title in the same manner as if such amount were such tax, would have been allowed as a deduction under this chapter if it had been timely paid.

    Because the true effect of these modifications will be impacted by implementing regulations and a number of other special conditions and rules may impact the deductibility of these payments and the reporting obligations attached to their payment, covered entities will want to consult with legal counsel about these rules and monitor their implementation to understand their potential implications on compliance expenditures and penalties.

    About The Author

    Repeatedly 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

    Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. 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 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 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 advice 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.


    Check Your Medicare/Medicaid Compliance Against Against Quarterly Guidance Changes List

    October 27, 2017

    Healthcare providers, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage Plans, beneficiaries, and suppliers should use the Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Quarterly Listing of Program Issuances—July Through September 2017 published today to help confirm compliance and other practices take into account potentially relevant new key Medicare and Medicaid guidance issued during the period from July 1 to September 30, 2017.

    Staying up-to-date with the latest Program is critical maintain qualification for benefits and rights and avoid getting nailed for harsh civil or even criminal penalties that violations can trigger. However keeping up with the constantly evolving guidance can be daunting.

    The quarterly notice lists updates that happened in the 3-month period along with a hyperlink to the full listing that is available on the CMS Web site or the appropriate data registries that are used as Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services resources. for beneficiaries, providers, and suppliers.

    The resource provides a convenient tool for the public to find the full list of qualified providers for these specific services and offers more flexibility and ‘‘real time’’ accessibility. In addition, many of the Web sites have listservs; that the public can subscribe and receive immediate notification of any updates to the Web site. These listservs avoid the need to check the Web site, as notification of updates is automatic and sent to the subscriber as they occur.

    This notice is organized into 15 addenda so that a reader may access the subjects published during the quarter covered by the notice to determine whether any are of particular interest. Interested persons should use the Quarterly Notice in concert with previously published notices.

    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, disaster and other crisis preparedness and response, and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes career long involvement in advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disaster and other crisis preparation, response and mitigation arising from natural and man-made disasters, government enforcement, financial distress, workplace emergencies and accidents, data breach and other cybersecurity and other events.  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.


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