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

September 23, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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 available here such as:  

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Gastroenterology Practices Pays $100K For HIPAA Noncompliance

March 3, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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 available here such as:  

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


OCR Warns HIPAA Entities To “Get Serious” About HIPAA Compliance In Announcing Latest Settlement Against Ambulance Company

December 31, 2019

The $65,000 payment and corrective action plan commitments West Georgia Ambulance, Inc. (“West Georgia”) is making to settle Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) charges it recurrently violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Security Rule sends a warning to all oher HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearighouses  and their business associates (“covered entities”)maintain and be prepared to defend their own HIPAA compliance under a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“Resolution Agreement”) OCR announced on December 30, 2019.

The Resolution Agreement resolves charges resulting from an OCR investigation initiated in response to a HIPAA breach report the Georgia based ambulance company filed in 2013 in which the company, which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in Carroll County, Georgia,  disclosed the loss of an unencrypted laptop containing the protected health information (PHI) of 500 individuals. The breach occurred when an unencrypted laptop fell off the back bumper of an ambulance. The laptop was not recovered.  West Georgia reported that exactly 500 individuals were affected by the breach.

In the course of its investigation of the breach report, OCR’s investigation uncovered long-standing noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, including failures to conduct a risk analysis, provide a security awareness and training program, and implement HIPAA Security Rule policies and procedures. Specifically, the Resolution Agreement states that West Georgia:

  • Did not conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
  • Failed to have a HIPAA security training program, and failed to provide security training to its employees. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(5);
  • Failed to implement Security Rule policies or procedures. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.316; and
  • Despite OCR’s investigation and technical assistance, “did not take meaningful steps to address their systemic failures.”

To resolve its exposure to the substantially higher civil monetary penalties that OCR could impose for violations of this nature, West Georgia agreed to pay a $65,000 resolution payment to OCR and implement and comply with a corrective action plan that in addition to requiring West Georgia to correct the compliance deficiencies, also subjects West Georgia to two years of OCR monitoring and oversight.

The Resolution Agreement and corrective action plan carry a number of important messages for other health care providers and other Covered Entities.  First, the OCR enforcement action against West Georgia coming at the end of yet another heavy HIPAA enforcement year by OCR reminds Covered Entities that OCR is serious about HIPAA enforcement on the heels of its 2018 HIPAA record setting collection of $28.7 million in civil monetary penalties and resolution payments including the single largest individual HIPAA settlement in history of $16 million with Anthem, Inc. See OCR Concludes 2018 with All-Time Record Year for HIPAA Enforcement.  While not topping this record, OCR during 2019 now has collected civil monetary penalties and resolution payments totaling more than $15 million from HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates including:

Second, the Resolution Agreement and various other smaller settlements during the year show HIPAA compliance and enforcement is a concern for smaller provideres and other covered entities, not juswt the huge ones.  While the $65,000 settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement is substantially smaller than the amounts of the civil monetary penalties and many of resolution payments OCR collected in its other 2019 enforcement actions, the West Georgia and other 2019 enforcement actions demonstrate the teeth behind the warning in the OCR Press Release announcing the West Georgia Resolution Agreement from OCR Director Roger Severino that“All providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously.”  With OCR promises to keep up its vigorous investigation and enforcement of the HIPAA requirements, every Covered Entity and business associate should take the necessary steps to verify and maintain their HIPAA compliance and to be prepared to defend their compliance under the Privacy, Security, Breach Notification and HIPAA access and other individual rights mandates of HIPAA.

Third, OCR’s statement in the Resolution Agreement about the failure by West Georgia to meaningfully act to correct compliance deficiencies and cooperate in other corrective action during the period following the breach report highlights the importance for covered entities involved in a breach or other dealings with OCR on a potential compliance concern to behave appropriately to  express and exhibit the necessary concern OCR expects regarding the compliance issue to position themselves to request and receive the clemency OCR is empowered under HIPAA to extend when deciding the sanctions for any noncompliance.

Of course meeting the requirements of HIPAA is not the only concern that covered entities should consider as they review and tightened their HIPAA and other privacy and data security procedures.  Health care providers and other covered entities also should keep in mind their other obligations to protect patient and other confidential information under other federal laws, the requirements of which also are ever-evolving.  For instance, on January 1, 2020 Texas providers like other Texas businesses will become subject to a shortened deadline for providing notice of data breaches under a new law enacted by the Texas Legislature in its last session.  Arrangements should be designed to fulfill all of these requirements as well as any ethical or contractual.

Covered entities also should keep in mind that violations of HIPAA can have implications well beyond HIPAA.ramifications beyond HIPAA itself.  For instance, heath care providers can face disqualification from federal program participation, licensing and ethics discipline and other professional consequences.  Health plans and their fiduciaries also may face Department of Labor and other fiduciary claims, while insurers can face licensing and other regulatory consequences.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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

About the Author

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

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer has extensive legal, operational, and public policy experience advising and representing health care, health care and other entities about HIPAA and other privacy, data security, confidentiality and other matters.

Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, public and private primary, secondary, and other educational institutions, and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has recurrently worked extensively with public school districts and public and private primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, academic medical, and other educational institutions, insured and self-insured health plans; 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; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, employers; and federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies on health care, education, and other data privacy, security, use, protection and disclosure; disability and other educational rights; workforce, and a host of other risk management and compliance concerns.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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 available here such as:

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

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 author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone 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.


$1.6M HIPAA Penalty Mostly Due To Inadequate Security Assessment & Oversight

December 16, 2019

The $1.6 million civil monetary penalty (“CMP”) assessed against the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (“TX HHSC”) for violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) Privacy and Security Rules between 2013 and 2017 committed by a predecessor agency, the Department of Aging and Disability Services (“DADS”) illustrates the critical need for all HIPAA covered entities and business associates to confirm the adequacy of their enterprise wide security assessment, oversight, and other HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance and risk management including documentation of the reassessment and updating of these materials and assessments in connection with any update or change in software, systems or other system and security relevant developments.

OCR imposed the CMPs against TX HHSC for violations of HIPAA OCR found DADS committed from 2015 to 2017, before it was reorganized into TX HHSC in September 2017.  Like most other large HIPAA CMPs and settlements paid to avoid CMPs, a review of the TX HSSC CMP events makes clear that the large penalty resulted mostly because of inadequate assessment and oversight of security, rather than the actual breach itself that prompted the investigation leading to the CMP assessment.

Before its merger into TX HHSC, DADS was the Texas agency primarily responsible for providing and administering the state’s long-term care services for aging and intellectually and physically disabled people.  TX HHSC now administers and provides the services previously provided by DADS as part of its broader operation of state supported living centers; provision of mental health and substance use services; regulation of child care and nursing facilities; and administration of hundreds of other programs for people needing supplemental nutrition benefits, Medicaid and certain other assistance including those previously provided by DADS.

DADS Breaches & Violations

The $1.6 million CMPs assessment against TX HHSC resulted after OCR investigated a 2015 breach report made by DADS.  On June 11, 2015, DADS submitted a Breach Notification Report (“Report”) notifying OCR that on April 21, 2015 names, addresses, social security numbers, treatment information and other electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) of 6,617 individuals was viewable over the internet when a software coding flaw allowed prohibited access to ePHI with access credentials when DADS moved an internal application from a private, secure server to a public server.  OCR’s investigation determined that, in addition to that impermissible disclosure, DADS violated the HIPAA Security Rule by failing to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis and implement access and audit controls on Community Living Assistance and Support Services and Deaf Blind with Multiple Disabilities (“CLASS/DBMD”) program information systems and applications intended to collect and report information about “Utilization Management and Review” activities to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) for the CLASS/DBMD waiver programs.. The CMS waiver programs required DADS to collect and report to CMS applicant and enrollee community and institutional service choice, Level of Care, Plan of Care, waiver provider choice  and other waiver program performance data for CLASS and DBMD as part of a required evidentiary report on all §1915(c) waiver programs.  The CLASS/DBMD application glitch compromised the ePHI by allowing an undetermined number of unauthorized users to view the ePHI without verifying user credentials. TX HHSC learned of the breach from an unauthorized user who accessed ePHI in the application without being required to input user credentials. Because of inadequate audit controls, DADS was unable to determine how many unauthorized persons accessed individuals’ ePHI.

OCR initiated a compliance review of DADS on June 23, 2015 in response to the breach notification. As HIPAA Security Rule at 45 C.F.R. ·§ 164.312(a)(l) requires a covered entity to implement technical policies and procedures for electronic information systems that maintain ePHI to allow access only to those persons or software programs properly granted access rights under HIPAA Security Rule § 164.308(a)(4), OCR found that by placing the CLASS/DBMD application on their public server without requiring users to provide access credentials, TX HHSC violated HIPAA by failing to implement access controls on all of its systems and applications throughout its enterprise in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(a)(l).

The HIPAA Security Rule at 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(b) requires a covered entity to implement hardware, software, and/or procedural mechanisms that record and examine activity in information systems that contain or use ePHI.  In the course of its investigation, OCR requested in its June 23, 2015 Data Request that DADS provide a copy of its current HIPAA administrative and technical policies and procedures.  As DADS provided no evidence that the application was capable of auditing user access after it was moved to the unsecure public server as required by 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(b) with its response, OCR also concluded from its investigation that TX HHSC failed to implement audit controls to all of its systems and applications, like the application involved in the breach, as required by 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(b).

Beyond these violations, OCR also found that DADS also violated the HIPAA Security Rule by failing to conduct the required accurate and thorough enterprise wised risk analysis required by the HIPAA Security Rule.  In this respect, the HIPAA Security Rule at 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A) requires a covered entity to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI it holds.  In its August 31, 2015 response to OCR’s Data Request dated July 23, 2015, DADS acknowledged that, while it had performed ”risk assessment activities” on individual applications and servers, it never performed an “agency-wide” security risk analysis.   On July 28, 2017, OCR received the documentation that DADS represented to be the documentation of its risk analysis.  After reviewing this evidence, OCR additionally found DADS violated the HIPAA Security Rule by failing to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis and implement access and audit controls.

Calculation & Assessment CMPs Totaling $1.6 Million

On May 23, 2018, OCR issued a Letter of Opportunity and informed TX HHSC that OCR’s investigation indicated that TX HHSC failed to comply with the Privacy and Security Rules, which remained unresolved despite OCR’s attempts to do so. The letter stated that pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.312(a)(3), OCR was informing TX HHSC of the preliminary indications of non-compliance and providing TX HHSC with an opportunity to submit written evidence of mitigating factors under 45 C.F.R. § 160.408 or affirmative defenses under 45 C.F.R. § 160.410 for OCR’s consideration in making a CMP determination under 45 C.F.R. § 160.404. The letter identified each area of noncompliance.  It also stated that TX HHSC also could submit written evidence to support a waiver of a CMP for the indicated areas of non-compliance.

Although the designated representative for TX HHSC as DADS successor received the Letter of Opportunity on May 24, 2018, . TX HHSC did not provide any written evidence of mitigating factors under 45 C.F.R. § 160.408 or affirmative defenses under 4S C.F.R. § 160.410 for OCR’s consideration in making the CMP determination or submit any written evidence to support a waiver of a CMP for the indicated areas of non-compliance.  Accordingly, after securing the requisite approval from the Justice Department, OCR issued a Notice of Proposed Determination of Civil Monetary Penalties (“Proposed CMP”) on July 29, 2019.

As explained by the Proposed CMP, as amended by the HITECH Act, Section 13410, 42 U.S.C. § 1320d-5(a)(3), HIPAA authorizes OCR as the designated representative of the Secretary of HHS to impose CMPs against a covered entity for post-February 18, 2009 HIPAA Privacy or Security Rule violations.  These current CMP provisions provide the following rules for the assessment of CMPs for such violations:

  • A minimum of$100 for each violation where the covered entity or business associate did not know and, by exercising reasonable diligence, would not have known that the covered entity or business associate violated such provision, except that the total amount imposed on the covered entity or business associate for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year may not exceed $25,000.
  • A minimum of$1,000 for each violation due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect, except that the total amount imposed on the covered entity or business associate for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year may not exceed $100,000. Reasonable cause means an act or omission in which a covered. entity or business associate knew, or by exercising reasonable diligence would have known, that the act or omission violated an administrative simplification provision, but in which the covered entity or business associate did not act with willful neglect.
  • A minimum of $10,000 for each violation due to willful neglect and corrected within 30 days, except that the total amount imposed on the covered entity or business associate for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year may not exceed $250,000.
  • A minimum of$50,000 for each violation due to willful neglect and uncorrected within 30 days, except that the total amount imposed on the covered entity or business associate for all violations of an identical requirement or prohibition during a calendar year may not exceed $1,500,000.

By law, OCR adjusts the CMP ranges and calendar year cap for each penalty tier for inflation.  The adjusted amounts are applicable only to CMPs whose violations occurred after November 2, 2015.

The Proposed CMP included notice of the CMPs OCR intended to impose CMPs totaling $1.6 million for the violations.  Characterizing each of the violations as due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect, the Proposed CMP Notice made note that OCR was authorized by statute to assess penalties of up to $50,000 per day for each day of the identified violations due for reasonable cause, rather than willful neglect, but authorized OCR to adjust the penalties in light of aggravating and mitigating factors.  The Proposed CMP stated that in arriving at the lesser daily penalty amount, OCR considered as mitigating factors that:

  • The violations did not result in any known physical, financial, or reputational harm to any individuals nor did it hinder any individual’s ability to obtain health care;  and
  • TX HHSC immediately removed the application once it received a report that unauthorized users could access the ePHI of individual beneficiaries.

However, OCR also took note that it viewed DADS failure to act promptly to remediate the breach and to keep a commitment made to OCR in August, 2015 timely to conduct and complete the agency wide risk analysis by August 31, 2016 as an aggravating factor.  Considering these factors, the Proposed CMP notified TX HHSC that OCR intended to assess a daily penalty amount of$1,000 per day ($1,141 after November 2, 2015) per violation capped at $100,000 per calendar year per violation. Applying these amounts, the CMP notified TX HHSC that OCR intended to impose CMPs totaling $1.6 million, as follows:

  • Impermissible disclosures in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.502(a), a $100,000 CMP
  • Inadequate access controls in violation of 45 C.F .R. § 164.312(a)(l), a $500,000 CMP
  • Inadequate audit controls in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.312(b), a $500,000 CMP
  • Failure to perform required enterprise wide risk analysis in violation of 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(l)(ii)(a), a $500,000.

After TX HHSC , as successor to DADS, did not file a request for hearing before an administrative law judge within the 90 days, OCR imposed the $1.6 million CMP in dated  October 25, 2019 made public on November 7, 2019.

Lessons For Other Health Care Providers, Health Plans, Clearinghouses & Business Associates

The latest in a growing series of multimillion dollar CMPs and Resolution Payments assessed and collected by OCR, the TX HHSC CMP illustrates the critical necessity for all covered entities and business both to take appropriate, well-documented action to prevent, timely discover and redress, and report ePHI breaches and otherwise comply with the otherwise applicable requirements of the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules including the conduct and continuous maintenance of appropriate enterprise wide security assessments, audits, and oversight.  With OCR promising to continue its enforcement, all covered entities and business associates should verify the existence and adequacy of their existing enterprise wide risk assessments and safeguards and procedures for monitoring, investigating potential security risks and other breaches and other HIPAA compliance oversight.  Beyond these compliance efforts, the TX HHSC and other CMP actions also drive home the strong advisability for covered entities or business associates that experience a known or potential breach or other violation promptly to investigate and mitigate potential breaches and other violations.  As part of these efforts, covered entities and business associates should seek assistance in conducting their assessments as well as responding to any preexisting and emergent breach or other compliance concerns within the scope of attorney-client privilege from qualified legal counsel with the necessary knowledge and experience of HIPAA and other federal and state laws, regulations and administrative and judicial decisions that define and shape their exposure.  In the event of a breach or other compliance concern, timely guidance and representation by legal counsel with both experience of these requirements and with dealing with OCR and other agencies may help mitigate exposures by expediting timely and appropriate response.

For More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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

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

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation GroupMs. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international 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; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, 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; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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 available here such as:

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

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 author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone 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.


University of Rochester Medical Center Paying $3 Million For Unencrypted Laptop & Flash Drive

November 6, 2019

$3 million is the hefty price that the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has agreed to pay to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules arising from the loss of unencrypted laptops and other mobile devices containing protected health information (PHI).  Like prior settlements and civil monetary penalties OCR previously assessed against HIPAA-covered entities for using or storing electronic protected health information (ePHI) on unencrypted mobile devices, the $3 million sanction and other requirements imposed in the   URMC Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan  made public after the close of business on November 5 reaffirm OCR’s readiness to sanction harshly health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and businesses associates for the loss or compromise of ePHI due to the covered entity’s failure to appropriately encrypt mobile devices.  Any HIPAA covered entity or business associate that has not already done so must act to avoid a similar fate by establishing and enforcing systematic procedures to ensure all mobile devices using, accessing, storing or otherwise dealing with  ePHI are properly encrypted at all times.

URMC Breach & Resolution Agreement

The URMC Resolution Agreement resolves potential charges resulting from an OCR investigation commenced in response to breach reports UMRC filed with OCR in 2013 and 2017. The breach reports disclosed UMRC’s discovery of the impermissible disclosure of PHI through the loss of an unencrypted flash drive and theft of an unencrypted laptop, respectively. URMC includes healthcare components such as the School of Medicine and Dentistry and Strong Memorial Hospital. URMC is one of the largest health systems in New York State with over 26,000 employees.

OCR’s investigation revealed that URMC failed to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis; implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level; utilize device and media controls; and employ a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt electronic protected health information (ePHI) when it was reasonable and appropriate to do so. Of note, in 2010, OCR investigated URMC concerning a similar breach involving a lost unencrypted flash drive and provided technical assistance to URMC. Despite the previous OCR investigation, and URMC’s own identification of a lack of encryption as a high risk to ePHI, URMC permitted the continued use of unencrypted mobile devices.

OCR made a point of reaffirming the requirement to encrypt laptops and other mobile devices containing ePHI when announcing the new Resolution Agreement. “Because theft and loss are constant threats, failing to encrypt mobile devices needlessly puts patient health information at risk,” said Roger Severino, OCR Director. “When covered entities are warned of their deficiencies, but fail to fix the problem, they will be held fully responsible for their neglect.”

As part of its punishment for allowing the ePHI breaches by failing to encrypt mobile devices, URMC must pay a $3 million monetary settlement as well as undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring their compliance with the HIPAA Rules.

Mobile Device Encryption Requirement Well-Established

OCR repeatedly through published guidance and reported sanctions repeatedly  has warned covered entities and business associates not to permit ePHI to be used, accessed or stored on unencrypted laptops or other mobile devices.  In 2017, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas (Children’s) paid a  $3,217,000.00 Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) after OCR issued its January 18, 2017 Final Determination that Children’s for years knowingly violated HIPAA by failing to encrypt or otherwise properly secure ePHI on laptops and other mobile devices and failing to comply with many other HIPAA requirements.  See Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules.   An OCR Newsletter Article on  Guidance on  Mobile Devices and Protected Health Information (PHI), for instance, states:

Entities regulated by the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules (the HIPAA Rules) must be sure to include mobile devices in their enterprise-wide risk analysis and take action(s) to reduce risks identified with the use of mobile devices to a reasonable and appropriate level.
The article also shared insights about some of the steps OCR considers necessary to meet this expectation,  as including:

  • Implement policies for use of mobile devices that are used to handle PHI;
  • Consider using Mobile Device Management (MDM) software to secure mobile devices;
  • Install or enable automatic lock/logoff functions;
  • Require authentication to access devices;
  • Keep devices’ security features updated;
  • Procure encryption, anti-virus/anti-malware software, and remote wipe capabilities;
  • Use a privacy screen to prevent viewing by third-parties;
  • Assure that Wi-Fi networks used are secure;
  • Use a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN);
  • Institute policies regarding downloading third-party apps on devices which access PHI;
  • Delete all PHI from device before disposing of; and
  • Provide training on secure use of mobile devices for all employees.

Covered entities and business associates should promptly and continuously act to ensure on a systematic and carefully documented basis that their organization is taking these and and other steps necessary to ensure that all mobile device with ePHI are always appropriately encrypted.

We hope this information was helpful.  For more information about HIPAA or other related concerns, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates and join discussions about these and other human resources, health and other employee benefit and patient empowerment concerns by participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group and registering for updates on our Solutions Law Press Website.

About the Author

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

As a primary focus of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with 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, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is noted for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns. This involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, 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; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement; and other strategic and operational concerns.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides legal risk management and compliance, business strategy and operations,  management, leadership  and other publications, coaching, , training and education tools and other resources 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, we invite you to register to receive other updates and review our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available 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 author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone 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.


Health IT Provider Pays $100K To OCR For Breach After No HIPAA Risk Assessment

May 24, 2019

The $100,000 payment Medical Informatics Engineering, Inc. (MIE) has agreed to pay under a just-announced HIPAA Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“MIE Agreement”) with an Indiana health care information technology provider sends a clear warning to health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities””) and their business associate service providers (“business associates”)(collectively (“HIPAA entities”)to ensure they can prove they properly conduct and update documented security risk assessments verifying their systems adequately meet the medical data privacy security requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) or be prepared to pay when a breach happens.

Coming less than a month after the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced its collection of a $3 million settlement payment from a radiology provider that also allowed hackers to breach its electronic protected health information (ePHI) by failing to conduct and respond to HIPAA-required risk assessments, OCR’s announcement late yesterday of the MIE Agreement makes clear that HIPAA entities need to tighten their HIPAA risk assessment, documentation and other compliance practices.

The latest in a lengthening list of OCR enforcement actions identifying as a key violation the failure to maintain up to date risk assessments, the MIE Agreement between OCR and the Indiana based provider of software and electronic medical record services to healthcare providers resulted from an OCR investigation of MIE’s July 23, 2015 breach report that hackers had used a compromised user ID and password to access the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 3.5 million people. OCR’s investigation revealed that MIE did not conduct a comprehensive risk analysis prior to the breach.  To avoid potential prosecution by OCR for the breach, MIE agrees in the MIE Agreement to pay $100,000 to OCR, as well as to conduct a complete enterprise wide HIPAA risk assessment, to periodically update that risk assessment in accordance with the HIPAA rules and take other corrective actions to avoid potential prosecution by OCR for alleged violations of HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules.

Coming less than a month after OCR’s collection of a $3 million HIPAA resolution penalty from medical imaging provider Touchstone Medical Imaging where failure to conduct regular risk assessments was also identified as a violation, OCR’s announcement of the MIE Agreement sends a clear warning to other HIPAA covered entities and business associates not to make the same mistake. “Entities entrusted with medical records must be on guard against hackers,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “The failure to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities to ePHI opens the door to breaches and violates HIPAA.”

While the HIPAA Security Rules always have included and OCR’s high dollar enforcement actions consistently demonstrate the need to meet their obligation to conduct documented comprehensive enterprise risk assessments and to update those assessments on an ongoing basis in response to changes in systems, software, participants or other events creating the potential for threats to the security of ePHI and the systems that include them, most HIPAA entities fail to adequate appreciate the scope of this responsibility or the steps OCR expects them to take to fulfill this expectation.  Meanwhile, litigation and enforcement records resulting from heath care and other data breaches under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act and other federal and state privacy and data security rules also show the value and need for excellent, well-documented risk assessment and mitigation response to mitigate breach and other exposures.

While clearly necessary and valuable establishing appropriate requirements and processes for ensuring the conduct and documentation of these required assessments, managing the compliance and risks resulting from their findings, documenting this analysis and other actions needed while also balancing other operational, legal, and financial challenges is complex and challenging.  The legally, operationally and politically sensitive discussions require both management of compliance and risks arising from the administration of these responsibilities themselves and the dealing with vendors, patients, other providers and payers and the community make it highly advisable that management of HIPAA Entities involve experienced legal counsel throughout the process to utilize legal advice and attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary tools to help safeguard sensitive discussions in the course of this process and manage other risks.

If have questions or need more information about the risk assessment or other HIPAA requirements or other health care regulatory developments or their implications on your organization, contact the author.  You also are invited to stay abreast of these and other health care developments by participating in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Group or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

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’s legal, management, governmental affairs work and speaking and publications have focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk.

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. Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, MGMA, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, her involvement in assisting clients with HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns pre-dates the enactment of HIPAA and arises from her career-long health and managed care and insurance industry work.

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 facilities and systems; physicians, physician practices, and other health care providers; medical staff, and other provider organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; health care and insurance accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services, electronic medical record and other health information technology (IT) organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management providers and organizations; health and insurance industry consultants, investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors and developers; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors;; and other health industry clients as well as a diverse array of other business and government entities. Ms. Stamer 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 operational compliance and risk management; strategic planning; product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management: crisis preparedness and response; public and regulatory affairs and host of other concerns.

As part of this work, Ms. Stamer continuously advises 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.   She helps clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Medicare and other HHS, Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, Insurance and other licensing agencies, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Labor, IRS, DOD, FTC, SEC, and other federal and state agencies; attorneys’ generals; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and others investigation and enforcement entities and actions.  Her experience includes advising, representing and defending these and other clients about risk management and compliance, breach and other liability investigation, mitigation and defense; contracting; process and product development, assessment, implementation and audit; contracting; commenting or seeking modification of legislation and regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; and a host of other projects and concerns.

Ms. Stamer also helps health industry, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients 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, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 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.

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 also 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 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.

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 also continuously works with a diverse array of clients to monitor, shape and respond to federal and state legislative, regulatory, enforcement and other public policy and regulatory affairs concerns.  This work involves a steady diet of involvement with Congress, federal regulators and state legislative, regulatory and enforcement bodies dealing with cutting edge health and insurance legislation, regulation and enforcement throughout her 30 year career.

Author of leading works on a multitude of these and other concerns, 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, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, and Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor and Employment Law, 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 experience publications, speaking, public advocacy or other 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 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.

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


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

February 7, 2019

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

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

Learn more de

2018 Cottage Health Resolution Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Record Setting HIPAA Enforcement Year

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

Date Name

Amount

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

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

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

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

Other Regulatory & Enforcement Developments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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


ONC Report Signals New Interoperability Demands Coming

January 8, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Current Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Prepare For Enhanced Operability Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

    December 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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

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

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

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer throughout her career regularly has worked with health care providers and payers, employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce managed care and other contracts, benefit plans and insurance arrangements, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors, supplier, and patient and member relations and requirements; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

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

    Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

    November 27, 2018

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

    Allergy Associates HIPAA Complaint Charge & Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About the Author

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

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

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

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

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer throughout her career regularly has worked with health care providers and payers, employer and other health benefit plan sponsors and vendors, health industry, insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health and insurance industry clients design, document and enforce managed care and other contracts, benefit plans and insurance arrangements, practices, policies, systems and solutions; manage regulatory, contractual and other legal and operational compliance; vendors, supplier, and patient and member relations and requirements; deal with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA, state insurance law and other private payer rules and requirements; contracting; licensing; terms of participation; medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations; reporting and disclosure, government investigations and enforcement, privacy and data security; and other compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; HIPAA administrative simplification, meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology, data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA, HEDIS and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care; internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

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

    Author of leading works on a multitude of health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, past ABA JCEB Council Representative and CLE and Marketing Committee Chair, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer’s health industry clients include public health organizations; public and private hospitals, healthcare systems, clinics and other health care facilities; physicians, physician practices, medical staff, and other provider organizations; skilled nursing, long-term care, assisted living, home health, ambulatory surgery, dialysis, telemedicine, DME, Pharma, clinics, and other health care providers; billing, management and other administrative services organizations; insured, self-insured, association and other health plans; PPOs, HMOs and other managed care organizations, insurance, claims administration, utilization management, and other health care payers; public and private peer review, quality assurance, accreditation and licensing; technology and other outsourcing; healthcare clearinghouse and other data; research; public and private social and community organizations; real estate, technology, clinical pathways, and other developers; investors, banks and financial institutions; audit, accounting, law firm; consulting; document management and recordkeeping, business associates, vendors, and service providers and other professional and other health industry organizations; academic medicine; trade associations; legislative and other law making bodies and others.

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

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

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

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

    ©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.


    Record $16M HIPAA Sanction Shows Need For Current Enterprise Risk Assessment; ONC/OCR Share New Tool To Help HIPAA Covered Entities Comply

    October 17, 2018

    Following on the heels of Monday’s announcement that Anthem, Inc. is paying a record setting $16 million to resolve charges its violations of the enterprise risk assessment and other requirements of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule allowed cybercriminals to breach the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of more than 79 million patients, physicians and other health care providers, health plans and health insurers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their service providers acting as their business associates (business associates) (hereafter collectively “HIPAA Entities”) should reconfirm their own and their business associates’ compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule’s enterprise risk assessment and other ePHI security requirements.

    When conducting these assessments, HIPAA Entities generally will want to ensure that their new enterprise risk assessment documents their consideration of the newly updated Security Risk Assessment (SRA) Tool jointly announced yesterday (October 16, 2018) by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and OCR, lessons shared in OCR’s $16 million Anthem, Inc. resolution agreement, $5.55 million resolution agreement with Memorial Healthcare System and other OCR HIPAA resolution agreements, civil monetary penalty assessments and other Security Rule guidance, as well as other emergent internal and external data suggesting potential susceptibilities of their own systems and data to breach or loss.

    HIPAA Entities are reminded that HIPAA requires that all HIPAA covered entities and business associates to conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information held by their organization.  Any HIPAA Entity that hasn’t already conducted a recent, appropriately documented enterprise wide risk analysis or updated their analysis in response to changes in equipment, vendors or emerging threats and developments should do so as soon as possible.

    HIPAA’s requirement that HIPAA entities conduct and maintain an appropriately comprehensive and timely updated enterprise-wide risk analysis of potential security threats to ePHI both an affirmative requirement of the HIPAA Security Rule and an indispensable process to help healthcare organizations understand their security posture to prevent, detect, respond to and mitigate potential legal, operational and reputational costs that commonly result when ePHI or other sensitive information is breached or destroyed.

    The importance of HIPAA entities having and being able to produce in the event of a breach or OCR audit an up-to-date, comprehensively enterprise risk assessment and response plan cannot be overstated.  Beyond OCR’s publication of extensive regulatory guidance and educational outreach discussing the responsibility to conduct and maintain documentation of appropriate enterprise risk assessments, virtually every announced HIPAA Security Rule civil monetary penalty assessment and other enforcement action identifies violation of the HIPAA Security Rule’s enterprise risk assessment requirements among the material transgressions committed and required to be corrected by HIPAA entities like Anthem, Inc. subjected to Security Rule enforcement.

    The updated SRA Tool jointly released by OCR and ONC on October 16, 2018 further reinforces the importance of complying with the enterprise wide risk assessment requirement while simultaneously encouraging and facilitating compliance by small to medium sized health care practices.  Particularly designed with an eye to helping health care providers that work as solo practitioners or in groups with 10 or less health care providers and their business associates identify risks and vulnerabilities to ePHI, OCR says the updated SRA Tool “provides enhanced functionality to document how such organizations can implement or plan to implement appropriate security measures to protect ePHI” and incorporates new features to make the tool “more user friendly.” New features OCR hopes will make the SRA tool more user friendly include:

    • Enhanced User Interface
    • Modular workflow with question branching logic
    • Custom Assessment Logic
    • Progress Tracker
    • Improved Threats & Vulnerabilities Rating
    • Detailed Reports
    • Business Associate and Asset Tracking
    • Overall improvement of the user experience

    HIPAA Entities should take note, however, that as of its October 16, 2018 released date, the updated version of the SRA Tool currently is only available in Windows format.  OCR has indicated that the OCR and ONC have not yet updated the OS iPad version of the previously published version of the SRA Tool. While the previous OS iPad version remains available at the Apple App Store exit disclaimer icon (search under “HHS SRA Tool”), HIPAA Entities that presently use or plan to use the OS iPad tool should consider comparing the prior tool against the updated Windows SRA Tool to verify the continued suitability of its continued use and any adjustments in understanding or application that might be warranted by these differences.  Additionally, HIPAA Entities also should review the revised User Guide available on the SRA Tool’s website before starting the assessment.

    While the SRA Tool provides valuable guidance to help HIPAA Entities to conduct their own enterprise wide risk assessment, HIPAA Entities should keep in mind that the responsibility to assess their enterprise wide risk and to update their security safeguards to respond to these risks is a continuous one.  While using the SRA Tool is an excellent starting point for beginning this assessment, HIPAA Entities need to realize that OCR expects HIPAA Entities to tailor their assessments to identify and respond to the full range of risks and exposures to their ePHI and associated systems and to constantly reevaluate and adjust these assessments in response to emerging system and ePHI threats identified in the course of their operations as well as external developments suggesting previously unidentified or inadequately appreciated threats.  Moreover, in addition to conducting the risk assessment, OCR regulatory guidance and guidance drawn from OCR’s civil monetary settlements resolution agreements and other enforcement and audit activities also make clear that in addition to conducting the enterprise wide risk analysis, HIPAA entities also need to be prepared to produce documentation that their organizations took appropriate and timely action to address the risks identified in the risk assessment in accordance with the HIPAA Security Rule.

    In addition to mitigate their exposure to potentially substantial HIPAA civil monetary penalties for violating the HIPAA Security Rule, HIPAA Entities also should keep in mind the potential role that their conduct and maintenance of appropriately comprehensive enterprise wide security risk assessments can play in helping to mitigate other legal, financial, operational and reputational risks that commonly also arise along with the HIPAA exposures associated with a breach of HIPAA.  In addition to HIPAA’s Security Rules for ePHI, HIPAA Entities typically also are subject to a hodgepodge of non-HIPAA statutory, regulatory and/or contractual obligations to safeguard patient, employee, business partners and other individual, financial, health, tax, peer review and credentialing, trade secrets and other confidential information against improper use, access, destruction or disclosure.  Examples of such obligations include the privacy and data security rules of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), the Internal Revenue Code and other tax laws, federal and state consumer debt and information, electronic crime, data security and identity theft statutes; federal and state trade secret and intellectual property laws; and others, for which violations often equal or substantially exceed the civil monetary penalty liability that commonly arise under the HIPAA Security Rule.  The experience of Anthem, Inc. illustrates this point.  While the $16 million resolution payment that OCR announced Anthem, Inc. is paying to resolve its HIPAA civil monetary penalty exposures for allowing the breach of the ePHI of 79 million individuals, this payment reflects only a very small portion of the overall liability that Anthem, Inc. incurred from data breach that lead to this resolution payment.  Anthem, Inc. also separately already reportedly also has paid more than $115 million to settle other statutory and contractual liabilities arising from the breach separate as well as substantial investigatory and defense costs in addition to the HIPAA liabilities settled under the resolution agreement announced Monday.  Other HIPAA Entities subjected to HIPAA civil monetary penalties or paying resolution payments to OCR also typically also have incurred substantial non-HIPAA sanctions and settlements, as well as other defense, investigation, operational and reputational losses as a result of their breaches.  HIPAA Entities should strive to ensure that their HIPAA enterprise wide risk assessment and compliance efforts are properly coordinated and administered to manage these overall risks and responsibilities in addition to their HIPAA-specific responsibilities and liabilities.

    Because enterprise wide risk assessments and discussions of their structuring, scope and findings are likely to produce legally sensitive evidence, HIPAA Entities are encouraged to seek the advice of qualified and suitably experienced legal counsel about the advisability of conducting all or certain aspects of an enterprise wide risk analysis and their documentation of their risk evaluation and response to take advantage of possible attorney-client privilege, work-product or other evidentiary rules before or throughout the risk assessment and response process and deliberations.

    About The Author

    A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s more than 30 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and a former JCEB Council Representative; former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; and past Chair, former Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, former Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health care, managed care and insurance, and other employee benefit, human resources, and related antitrust, corporate, privacy and data security, tax and other internal controls, regulatory affairs and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. 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 helps public and private, domestic and international health, insurance and financial security, and other businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    In this respect, Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, regulatory compliance and operational and performance management. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

    Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

    In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, employee benefit, privacy and data security and other federal, state and local laws, regulations and enforcement actions. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health, insurance and financial services, employee benefits and other business, professional and civic organizations.

    Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (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 may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com 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 or updating your profile here.

    ©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.

     


    Record $16M Anthem HIPAA Settlement Signals Need To Tighten HIPAA Compliance & Risk Management

    October 16, 2018

    Health care providers, managed care organizations, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses and their business associates should study and learn from the just announced, record-setting $16 million resolution agreement between health insurance giant, Anthem, Inc. and the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  The resolution agreement resolves OCR charges that Anthem, Inc.’s violations of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules exposed the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of almost 79 million people.  In addition to reviewing the adequacy of their own HIPAA privacy and security practices, health care providers, health plans, their employer and union sponsors and fiduciaries also should consider assessing the advisability of tightening their business associate and other agreements with health insurers, third party administrative services providers and other vendors in light of the resolution agreement and practical experiences with the fallout of the Anthem breach to better position themselves to assess and enforce HIPAA compliance, receive notice and respond in the event of an insurer or other vendor breach and mitigate financial costs and liabilities resulting from breaches or other compliance deficiencies.

    Anthem’s Record Setting Breach & Resolution Agreement

    The settlement agreement announced October 15, 2018 by OCR requires Anthem, Inc. to pay a $16 million resolution payment to OCR and take a series of corrective actions to resolve HIPAA liabilities to OCR for allowing the largest known U.S. health data breach in history in 2015.

    The record $16 million resolution payment eclipses the prior record resolution payment of $5.55 million Memorial Healthcare System (MHS) paid OCR to settle HIPAA charges in 2016.

    An independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and one of the nation’s largest health benefits companies, Anthem provides medical care coverage to one in eight Americans through its affiliated health plans.  The breach that resulted in the settlement agreement affected ePHI Anthem maintained for its affiliated health plans including many employer or union sponsored self-insured and insured group health plans and other HIPAA-covered entity health plans.

    On March 13, 2015, Anthem filed a breach report with the HHS Office for Civil Rights  that disclosed that Anthem discovered on January 29, 2015 that cyber-attackers had gained access to and engaged in continuous and targeted cyberattack on Anthem’s IT system for the apparent purpose of extracting data, otherwise known as an advanced persistent threat attack.  After filing its 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.

    In addition to the impermissible disclosure of ePHI, OCR’s investigation revealed that Anthem failed to conduct an enterprise-wide risk analysis, had insufficient procedures to regularly review information system activity, failed to identify and respond to suspected or known security incidents, and failed to implement adequate minimum access controls to prevent the cyber-attackers from accessing sensitive ePHI, beginning as early as February 18, 2014.

    Beyond the consequences for the millions of individuals whose ePHI was disclosed through the breach, the breach also triggered responsibilities and concerns for heath care providers who contracted to provide care or services to Anthem plan members, fiduciaries and sponsors of the employer and union-sponsored group health plans administered or insured by Anthem.  Health care providers and their patients were forced to deal with the fall out of having patient data exposed in the breach.  In addition sponsors and fiduciaries of private sector employer or union sponsored plans struggled to obtain information and cooperation from Anthem necessary to evaluate and fulfill their health plans’ HIPAA obligations as well as the fiduciary responsibility requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

    In addition to the $16 million settlement that Anthem is paying to resolve OCR’s HIPAA charges stemming from the breach, the OCR settlement agreement also requires Anthem to undertake a robust corrective action plan to comply with the HIPAA Rules.

    In addition to the $16 million paid under the OCR resolution agreement, anthem already has paid more than $115 million to settle lawsuits arising out of the breach under other laws.

    Anthem Follows On Other Recent Enforcement

    The record setting Anthem resolution agreement is notable in part as one of the few high dollar settlement agreements involving a health plan.  To date, the overwhelming majority of HIPAA enforcement actions have involved health care providers.

    Rgeardless of the category of the covered entity involved, however, the Anthem settlement again drives home the risks health care providers, health plans and other covered entities and their business associates run for lax HIPAA compliance and risk management.  The latest in the growing list of high dollar HIPAA settlements OCR has collected from health care provider and other covered entities including the $999,0000 in settlement payments OCR announced on September 20, 2018 that Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) paid  for putting publicity before patient privacy by allowing ABC News documentary film crews to film patients and access other patient information for a news documentary without obtaining prior patient authorization under three settlement agreements.

    Act To Manage Compliance & Risks

    Unquestionably, health care providers, other health insurers, employer, union and association sponsored group health plans, and their vendors and business associates should evaluate the adequacy and defensibility of their own health plan privacy and security practices in light of the Anthem breach and resolution agreement.  In addition, employer, union or association health plan sponsors, administrative service providers and fiduciaries also should consider the advisability of strengthening their business associate agreements with insurers, third party administrators and other health plan service providers to incorporate safeguards, audit, oversight or other provisions and practices to help prudently monitor potential risks and improve their ability to receive timely notice, respond to, and preserve rights of recourse against insurers or other vendors in the event of a breach or other deficiency.

    Since Covered Entities also are likely to be subject to other statutory, ethical, contractual or other privacy or confidentiality requirements beyond those imposed by the Privacy Rule, most Covered Entities also will want to consider and take steps to identify and address other potential legal or ethical responsibilities such as medical confidentiality duties applicable to physicians and other health care providers under medical ethics, professional licensure or other similar rules, contractual responsibilities, as well as common law privacy or other related exposures when conducting this review.  Additionally, most Covered Entities also will want to take into account and manage their potential exposure to privacy, theft of likeness or other intellectual property, or other statutory or common law tort or contractual claims that might attached to the unauthorized filming, photographing, or surveillance of individuals under federal or state common or statutory laws.

    Since this analysis and review in most cases will result in the uncovering or discussion of potentially legally or politically sensitive information, Covered Entities should consider consulting with or engaging experienced legal counsel for assistance in structuring and executing these activities to maximize their ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections against discovery or disclosure of certain aspects of these activities.

    Finally, Covered Entities should keep in mind that HIPAA compliance and risk management is an ongoing process requiring constant awareness and diligence.  Consequently, Covered Entities should both monitor OCR and other regulatory and enforcement developments as well as exercise ongoing vigilance to monitor and maintain compliance within their organizations.

    About The Author

    A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s more than 30 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and a former JCEB Council Representative; former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; and past Chair, former Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, former Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health care, managed care and insurance, and other employee benefit, human resources, and related antitrust, corporate, privacy and data security, tax and other internal controls, regulatory affairs and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. 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 helps public and private, domestic and international health, insurance and financial security, and other businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    In this respect, Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, regulatory compliance and operational and performance management. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

    Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

    In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, employee benefit, privacy and data security and other federal, state and local laws, regulations and enforcement actions. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health, insurance and financial services, employee benefits and other business, professional and civic organizations.

    Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (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 may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com 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 or updating your profile here.

    ©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All other rights reserved.


    Comments Due Tomorrow (10/17) On ONC Request for Information (RFI) for Input on EHR Reporting Program

    October 16, 2018

    Comments are due tomorrow on the Department of Health & Human Services Office of the National Coordinator’s (ONC’s) Electronic Health Record (EHR) Reporting Program Request for Information (RFI).

    Section 4002(c) of the 21st Century Cures Act requires HHS to establish the program which provides publically available, comparative information on certified health IT. ONC recently issued an RFI for the public to share their views on the components of the EHR Reporting Program, and to provide feedback that will inform the development of EHR Reporting Program criteria and processes as required by the Cures Act.

    ONC encourages stakeholders to provide their comments through the online submission process available on the Federal Register. Comments are due at 5:00pm ET tomorrow, October 17, 2018.  Interested persons may submit their comments here

    About The Author

    A practicing attorney and health industry consultant and policy advocate, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s more than 30 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and a former JCEB Council Representative; former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; and past Chair, former Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, former Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health care, managed care and insurance, and other employee benefit, human resources, and related antitrust, corporate, privacy and data security, tax and other internal controls, regulatory affairs and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. 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 helps public and private, domestic and international health, insurance and financial security, and other businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    In this respect, Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, regulatory compliance and operational and performance management. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

    Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

    In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, employee benefit, privacy and data security and other federal, state and local laws, regulations and enforcement actions. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health, insurance and financial services, employee benefits and other business, professional and civic organizations.

    Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (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 may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com 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 or updating your profile here.

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    $999K Price Hospitals Pay To Settle HIPAA Privacy Charges From Allowing ABC To Film Patients Without Authorization

    September 21, 2018

    With New Settlements, OCR Collections From HIPAA Covered Entities For Improperly Allowing Filming Or Other PHI Disclosures To Media Now Exceed $3 Million

    $999,0000 is the collective price tag paid by Boston Medical Center (BMC), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)(collectively, the “Hospitals”) for putting publicity before patient privacy by allowing ABC News documentary film crews to film patients and access other patient information for a news documentary without obtaining prior patient authorization under three settlement agreements with the Hospitals just announced by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

    On Thursday, September 20, 2018, OCR announced the three Hospitals collectively have paid a total of $999,000 to settle OCR charges that each Hospital separately violated each violated patients’ Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rights by allowing ABC television documentary film crews to observe and film patients and otherwise access to patient’s protected health information (“PHI”) without prior HIPAA-compliant patient authorization.  The payments were made under three separate settlement agreements between OCR and each respective Hospital made public by OCR in connection with the September 20, 2018 announcement stemming from the Hospital’s allowing ABC film crews to film in patient treatment and other areas for  the ABC medical documentary “Save My Life: Boston Trauma” series.

    Considered in conjunction with OCR’s April 16, 2016 announcement of its $2.2 million HIPAA settlement (NY-Presby Settlement) with New York-Presbyterian Hospital for allowing film crews from the “NY Med” television series to film patients and OCR’s concurrently-published 2016 Frequently Asked Question (Media FAQ) addressing Covered Entities’ responsibilities when dealing with the media, the three newly-announced settlement agreements drive home the need for physicians, hospitals and other health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) to protect patients and their PHI against unauthorized filming, photography, observation and other access by news or other media or even other staff, patients or visitors.  With OCR now having collected nearly $3 million in settlement proceeds from 4 separate providers for violating these rules, all Covered Entities should review and tighten their current policies, practices and staff training regarding media access and relations, filming and photographing of patients and patient information within their facilities and other HIPAA compliance to reduce the potential that their organizations will fall subject to similar enforcement by OCR.

    Media FAQ Highlights Duty To Protect Patients Against Unauthorized Filming, Photography & Other PHI Disclosures By Media, Others

    OCR specifically alerted Covered Entities about their responsibility to safeguard patients and their PHI in dealings with the media in the Media FAQ OCR published in connection with its 2016 announcement of its $2.2 million settlement with New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

    Among other things, the Media FAQ states that HIPAA prohibits health care providers and other Covered Entities from inviting or allowing media personnel into treatment or other areas where patients or patient PHI will be accessible in written, electronic, oral, or other visual or audio form, or otherwise making PHI accessible to the media without prior written authorization from each patient or other subject of the PHI who is or will be in the area or whose PHI otherwise will be accessible to the media except in a very limited set of circumstances set forth in the Media FAQ.

    The Media FAQ also states, “It is not sufficient for a health care provider to request or require media personnel to mask the identities of patients (using techniques such as blurring, pixilation, or voice alteration software) for whom an authorization was not obtained, because the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not allow media access to the patients’ PHI, absent an authorization, in the first place.

    In addition, the Media FAQ states that a health care provider also must ensure that reasonable safeguards are in place to protect against impermissible disclosures or to limit incidental disclosures of other PHI that may be in the area but for which an authorization has not been obtained.

    Concerning the limited circumstances when a health care provider or other Covered Entity or business associate may disclose to the media or allow unconsented filming, photographing or use of PHI to the media or other film crews, the Media FAQ also clarifies that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require health care providers to prevent members of the media from entering areas of their facilities that are otherwise generally accessible to the public like public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility.

    In addition, the Media FAQ states a health care provider or other Covered Entity may:

    • Disclose limited PHI about the incapacitated patient to the media in accordance with the requirements of 45 C.F.R. 164.510(b)(1)(ii) when, in the hospital’s professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest; or
    • Disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to any person, including the media, without obtaining a HIPAA authorization where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory, and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name as specified in 45 C.F.R. 164.510(a).

    The Media FAQ also discusses circumstances where a healthcare provider or other Covered Entity may use the services of a contract film crew to produce training videos or public relations materials on the provider’s behalf if the provider ensures that the film crew acting as a business associate enters into a HIPAA compliant business associate agreement with the Covered Entity which among other things ensures that the film crew will safeguard the PHI it obtains, only use or disclose the PHI for the purposes provided in the agreement, and return or destroy any PHI after the work for the health care provider has been completed as required by 45 C.F.R. 164.504(e)(2). The Media FAQ also states that as a business associate, the film crew must comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and a number of provisions in the Privacy Rule, including the Rule’s restrictions on the use and disclosure of PHI.  In addition, the Media FAQ reminds Covered Entities and business associates of the need to obtain prior authorizations from patients whose PHI is included in any materials before any of those materials are posted online, printed in brochures for the public, or otherwise publicly disseminated.

    Finally, the Media FAQ states Covered Entities can continue to inform the media of their treatment services and programs so that the media can better inform the public, provided that, in doing so, the covered entity does not share PHI with the media.

    4 High Dollar HIPAA Settlements HIPAA Sanctions Covered Entities Risk By Allowing Improper Media & Other Recording, Use Or Access To PHI

    The nearly $3 million in total settlement payments collected under the original 2016 NY-Presby Settlement and three additional settlement agreements announced by OCR on September 20, 2018 collectively make clear that health care providers or other Covered Entities risk substantial sanctions from OCR for allowing television or other media to film or access patients or their PHI without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from the patient.

    • $2.2 Million NY-Presby Settlement

    OCR originally made clear that its intention that other Covered Entities learn from the NY- Presbyterian experience in its April 21, 2016 announcement of the Resolution Agreement.  The announcement quoted OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels as stating, “This case sends an important message that OCR will not permit covered entities to compromise their patients’ privacy by allowing news or television crews to film the patients without their authorization.”

    Of course, even without then OCR Director Samuel’s warning, the $2.2 million settlement amount OCR required NY-Presbyterian Hospital to pay under the NY-Presby Resolution Agreement alone strongly signaled OCR’s willingness to harshly sanction health care providers and other Covered Entities for putting media coverage before patients.

    According to the NY-Presby Resolution Agreement, OCR’s investigation revealed that NY-Presbyterian “blatantly” violated HIPAA when it allowed ABC film crews and staff virtually unfettered access to its health care facility.  OCR says the access NY-Presbyterian allowed ABC effectively created an environment where patients PHI could not be protected from impermissible disclosure to the ABC film crew and staff filming the episode.  While the Resolution Agreement reflects allowing the filming and other access to ABC without prior HIPAA-compliant authorization from patients in the facility itself violated HIPAA, OCR also particularly found “egregious” the facility allowing ABC film crews and staff to film a dying patient and another patient in significant distress without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from each of those patients and even more so that NY-Presbyterian failed stop the filming even after a medical professional urged the crew to stop.

    Based on its investigation, OCR charged NY-Presbyterian with violating 45 C.F.R. §§ 164.502(a) and 164.530(c) by:

    • Impermissibly disclosing the PHI of two identified patients to the film crew and other staff of “NY Med”; and
    • Failing appropriately and reasonably to safeguard its patients’ PHI from disclosure during the filming of “NY Med” on its premises; and
    • Failing to implement policies, procedures and practices to protect the privacy of its filming of aforementioned television show.
    • BMC Settlement Agreement

    The circumstances that resulted in the three resolution agreements announced on September 20, 2018 are strikingly similar to those underlying the NY-Presby Resolution Agreement. Notably, the investigations that resulted in the three settlement agreements all arose out of the respective Hospital’s permitting an ABC documentary film crew filming a medical documentary to access patient areas of their hospitals.  OCR’s investigation of MGH arose in response to an announcement about the impending filming on its website while OCR’s investigations of BMC and BWH started in response to a January 12, 2015 Boston Globe article that reported the Hospitals each separately had allowed ABC film crews filming a documentary to access PHI and film patients without obtaining patient authorization.  See Boston Medical Center Resolution Agreement (BMC Settlement Agreement);  Brigham and Women’s Hospital Resolution Agreement (BWH Settlement Agreement); and Massachusetts General Hospital Resolution Agreement (MGH Resolution Agreement)

    The MGH Resolution Agreement reflects that OCR’s investigations began with an investigation of MGH on December 17, 2014 based on a news story posted to MGH’s website on October 3, 2014, indicating that ABC News would be filming a medical documentary program at MGH. The MGH Resolution Reports that the investigation revealed that before allowing the filming between October 2014 to January 2015, MGH reviewed and assessed patient privacy issues related to the filming and implemented various protections regarding patient privacy, including providing the ABC film crew with the same HIPAA privacy training received by MGH’s workforce.

    Information contained in the respective settlement agreements reflect that OCR’s investigations of BMC and BWH began about a month later on January 25 and 26, 2015 respectively in response to the Boston Globe article. The BWH Settlement Agreement states that the BWH investigation revealed that like MGH, BWH reviewed and assessed patient privacy issues related to the filming and implemented various protections regarding patient privacy, including providing the ABC film crew with the same HIPAA privacy training received by BWH’s workforce before allowing the filming by the ABC film crew that occurred between October 2014 to January 2015.  The BMC Settlement Agreement does not state that OCR found BMC engaged in similar deliberations or undertook the same or other efforts to safeguard patients and their PHI.

    The BMC Settlement Agreement reports that the OCR concluded based on the BMC investigation showed that BMC impermissibly disclosed PHI of patients to ABC employees during the production and filming of a television program at BMC in violation of HIPAA.  Meanwhile, while acknowledging the privacy deliberations and efforts undertaken at MGH and BWH, OCR also concluded that each of those organizations also violated HIPAA because in allowing the film crew access and to film patients and patient areas:

    • The timing at which they obtained patient authorizations showed MGH and BWH impermissibly disclosed the PHI of patients to ABC employees during the production and filming of a television program at BWH; and
    • Despite the various patient privacy protections that were put in place, MGH and BWH failed to appropriately and reasonably safeguard its patients’ PHI from disclosure during a filming project conducted by ABC on its premises in 2014 and January 2015.

    To resolve potential HIPAA violations, BMC has paid OCR $100,000, BWH has paid OCR $384,000, and MGH has paid OCR $515,000. In addition, each Hospital agreed to provide workforce training as part of a corrective action plan that will include OCR’s guidance on disclosures to film and media in the 2016 Media FAQ.

    OCR To Covered Entities:  Prevent Unauthorized Filming, Photography & PHI Access & Disclosures To Media, Other Third Parties

    Given the clear warnings communicated by OCR in its Media FAQ and September 20, 2018 and NY-Presby Settlements, all Covered Entities should take steps to verify that their current policies, practices and training are appropriately designed and administered to ensure their ability to demonstrate compliance with OCR’s interpretation of the Privacy Rule as prohibiting health care providers or other Covered Entities from allowing film or media to film, photograph or even access areas where patients or their PHI are accessible or otherwise disclosing PHI to members of the media without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization from each patient whose presence or PHI could be observed, recorded or otherwise accessed.

    When considering the adequacy of their current policies, practices and training concerning filming, photography and other access and disclosure to patients, patient treatment areas and other PHI, Covered Entities should resist the temptation to read the Media FAQ and media settlement agreements as relevant only to their policies concerning filming, photography and PHI access by members of the media.  In this respect, it bears noting that the NY-Presby Settlement expressly required NY-Presbyterian as part of its required corrective action to adopt and enforce policies requiring that “all photography, video recording and audio recording conducted on NY-Presbyterian premises” be reviewed, preapproved and actively monitored by appropriate NY-Presbyterian representatives for compliance with the Privacy Rule and NY-Presbyterian’s policies.  This requirement to adopt and administer appropriate safeguards to control filming or photography and other access to patients and their PHI generally, rather than just by the media, reflects a recognition by OCR that HIIPAA’s requirement that Covered Entities secure prior HIPAA-compliant authorization before allowing others to access or disclosing PHI to others applies to access or disclosure to “any third party not involved in patient care,” not merely those to media or film crews. Consequently, Covered Entities also should consider the implications of the guidance shared in the Media FAQ and media settlement agreements on the adequacy and defensibility of their current policies, practices and training about filming, photographing, or other access or disclosure to patients, patient treatment areas and PHI by any party within their facilities and organizations.

    When evaluating these responsibilities and risks, Covered Entities are encouraged not only to take into account potential risks from filming, photographs or other access to patients or patient treatment or recordkeeping areas by third-parties unaffiliated with their organizations as well as filming, photographs and other access by staff, employees or business associates within their facilities.  Covered Entities should take steps to monitor and properly restrict and protect any filming, photography or other observations, records or other access to patients or their information by individuals within their workforce, as well as to regulate the access and activities of unrelated third parties.  In this respect, Covered Entities are cautioned about the need to prohibit and enforce restrictions against members of their workforce using their own personal devices or other equipment to film, photograph, and copy or disseminate photographs, film, recordings or other records or data that qualifies as or contains PHI without authorization in accordance with established protocols.  Covered Entities should ensure that their policies and training make clear that these prohibitions apply whether or not the workforce member believes that identity of the patient or patient information is concealed or otherwise not discoverable.  Moreover, even with respect to photographs, films or other recordings or records legitimately created for treatment, payment or operations purposes, Covered Entities generally need to take steps to restrict use, access and disclosure of the photographs or other recordings to individuals legitimately involved in patient treatment, operations, payment or other activities allowed by the Privacy Rule and to safeguard those materials against use, access or disclosure to others within or outside their workforce except as allowed by HIPAA and other applicable law. .

    As part of these activities, Covered Entities should consider conducting a well-documented assessment of their current policies, practices and workforce training on allowing media or other parties to enter, film, photograph or record within their facilities or otherwise disclosing or allowing media access to their facilities as well as their policies about when parties not involved in care of a particular patient can film, photograph, or otherwise record, observe or access areas where patients or patient PHI is or might be present without prior written consent of the patient.

    Since Covered Entities also are likely to be subject to other statutory, ethical, contractual or other privacy or confidentiality requirements beyond those imposed by the Privacy Rule, most Covered Entities also will want to consider and take steps to identify and address other potential legal or ethical responsibilities such as medical confidentiality duties applicable to physicians and other health care providers under medical ethics, professional licensure or other similar rules, contractual responsibilities, as well as common law privacy or other related exposures when conducting this review.  Additionally, most Covered Entities also will want to take into account and manage their potential exposure to privacy, theft of likeness or other intellectual property, or other statutory or common law tort or contractual claims that might attached to the unauthorized filming, photographing, or surveillance of individuals under federal or state common or statutory laws.

    Since this analysis and review in most cases will result in the uncovering or discussion of potentially legally or politically sensitive information, Covered Entities should consider consulting with or engaging experienced legal counsel for assistance in structuring and executing these activities to maximize their ability to claim attorney-client privilege or other evidentiary protections against discovery or disclosure of certain aspects of these activities.

    Finally, Covered Entities should keep in mind that HIPAA compliance and risk management is an ongoing process requiring constant awareness and diligence.  Consequently, Covered Entities should both monitor OCR and other regulatory and enforcement developments as well as exercise ongoing vigilance to monitor and maintain compliance within their organizations.

    About The Author

    A practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer’s more than 30 years’ of leading edge work as an practicing attorney, author, lecturer and industry and policy thought leader have resulted in her recognition as a “Top” attorney in employee benefits, labor and employment and health care law.

    Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual Agency Meeting with the Office of Civil Rights and a former JCEB Council Representative; former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; and past Chair, former Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair and current Fiduciary Responsibility Committee Co-Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, former Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, Ms. Stamer is recognized nationally and internationally for her practical and creative insights and leadership on HIPAA and other health care, managed care and insurance, and other employee benefit, human resources, and related antitrust, corporate, privacy and data security, tax and other internal controls, regulatory affairs and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. 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 helps public and private, domestic and international health, insurance and financial security, and other businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

    In this respect, Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, regulatory compliance and operational and performance management. She supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

    Well known for her extensive work with health care, insurance and other highly regulated entities on corporate compliance, internal controls and risk management, her clients range from highly regulated entities like employers, contractors and their employee benefit plans, their sponsors, management, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and advisors, technology and data service providers, health care, managed care and insurance, financial services, government contractors and government entities, as well as retail, manufacturing, construction, consulting and a host of other domestic and international businesses of all types and sizes.

    As a key part of this work, Ms. Stamer uses her deep and highly specialized health, insurance, labor and employment and other knowledge and experience to help health industry, insurance and financial services and other employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors; health, pension and other employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers, and others design legally compliant, effective compliance and internal controls, risk management, human resources and other workforce performance, discipline, compensation, employee benefits and related programs, products and arrangements.

    In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated an impressive resume of experience advising and representing clients on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns. The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights for several years, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employer and other sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health plans, health insurers, health care providers, banking, technology and other vendors, and others. Beyond advising these and other clients on privacy and data security compliance, risk management, investigations and data breach response and remediation, Ms. Stamer also advises and represents clients on OCR and other HHS, Department of Labor, IRS, FTC, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She also is the author of numerous highly acclaimed publications, workshops and tools for HIPAA or other compliance including training programs on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

    Ms. Stamer also is deeply involved in helping to influence the health care, workforce, insurance and financial services, employee benefit, privacy and data security and other federal, state and local laws, regulations and enforcement actions. She both helps her clients respond to and resolve emerging regulations and laws, government investigations and enforcement actions and helps them shape the rules through dealings with Congress and other legislatures, regulators and government officials domestically and internationally. A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Social Security reform law and most recognized for her leadership on U.S. health and pension, wage and hour, tax, education and immigration policy reform, Ms. Stamer works with U.S. and foreign businesses, governments, trade associations, and others on workforce, social security and severance, health care, immigration, privacy and data security, tax, ethics and other laws and regulations. Founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Healthcare Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation and State Bar of Texas. She also works as a policy advisor and advocate to health, insurance and financial services, employee benefits and other business, professional and civic organizations.

    Author of the thousands of publications and workshops these and other employment, employee benefits, health care, insurance, workforce and other management matters, Ms. Stamer also is a highly sought out speaker and industry thought leader known for empowering audiences and readers. Ms. Stamer’s insights on employee benefits, insurance, health care and workforce matters in Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, Modern Healthcare, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications. Ms. Stamer also regularly serves on the faculty and planning committees for symposia of LexisNexis, the American Bar Association, ALIABA, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, ISSA, HIMMs, and many other prominent educational and training organizations and conducts training and speaks on these and other management, compliance and public policy concerns.

    Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (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 may be interested reviewing other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources at www.solutionslawpress.com 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 or updating your profile here.

    ©2018 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.  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.

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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 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.

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