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

April 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCR PDH COVID-19 Civil Rights Investigation & Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information & Resources

We hope this update is helpful. If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.  In addition to this update, the author of this article also is extensively published and frequent speaker on pandemic and other infectious disease, and other health industry crisis preparedness and response, and many other regulatory compliance, risk management and operations, public policy and other concerns. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

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

About the Author

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

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Ms. Stamer is widely recognized for her pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on domestic and international, public and private sector health care and managed care, workforce and performance, safety, legal and operational compliance and risk management, crisis preparedness and response, and other essential legal and operational concerns.

Her experience includes extensive work domestically and internationally with hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing and other long term care, rehabilitation and other health care facilities; physicians, medical staff and other health care providers and organizations; accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations;  health care management and technology and other health and managed care industry clients; self-insured and insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and service providers and other payers; employers; billing, utilization management, quality, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and the author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans and a multitude of other publications and workshops on health and other disaster and other crisis preparedness, risk management and response, as well as a multitude of other health care, workforce and other management and regulatory affairs publications and presentations, Ms. Stamer also shares her thought leadership through her extensive and diverse involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations.  Examples of these involvements include her service as the current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former JCEB Council Representative;  past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group; former ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Past Chair and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefits Committee;  former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; former technical advisor to the National Physicians Council on Health Care Policy; former member of the Stem Cell Advisory Committee; and in a multitude of other professional, trade, civic and community service organizations . For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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CMS Steps Up Nursing Home Inspections & Tightens Inspections In Response To Continuing COVID-19 Outbreaks & Deaths

April 3, 2020

Skilled nursing and other long term care facilities commonly known as “nursing homes”  (“LTC facilities”),[i] rehabilitation, assisted living, retirement and other facilities and communities caring for elderly, disabled, aged or other infirm patients or residents should use recently released tools to confirm the adequacy of and update their current COVID-19 and other infectious disease prevention and control and other key policies and practices with the latest Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements and guidelines in light of recently announced changes to CMS nursing home inspection policies (the “Targeted Inspection Policy”)[iii] that target nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks or death for likely inspection announced March 23, 2020 including all existing requirements including new “recommendations” on nursing homes on COVID-19 preparedness and response announced April 2, 2020 (the “April Recommendations”).[iii]

Prompted by the continuing explosive growth in COVID-19 infection and deaths among nursing home residents and widespread deficiencies found during recent inspections at the Kirkland, Washington Life Care Center nursing homes (the “Kirkland Facilities”) made notorious by the death of 23 people and other nursing homes with COVID-19 inspections, the Targeted Inspection Policy and April Recommendations supplement and give more teeth to the CMS Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (the “3/3 Directive”)[iv] previously released by CMS released in conjunction with President Trump’s Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (“COVID Emergency Declaration”) in response to concerns raised by reports of 19 COVID-19 related deaths at the Kirkland Facilities[v] on March 13, 2020.

Despite CMS and CDC’s efforts to reign in nursing home based COVID-19 infections and deaths by ordering nursing homes in the Nursing Home Directive to limit outside visitors and take other precautions outlined in the Nursing Home Directive and release of other guidance and tools,  nursing home based COVID-19 infections and deaths have continued to soar since March 13, 2020.[vi]  Meanwhile, onsite audits at the Kirkland Facilities and other facilities during March uncovered concerning deficiencies in the compliance at the Kirkland Facilities and many other nursing homes across the nation, as well as the need to address other weaknesses in current CMS and CDC practices and guidelines that the agencies determined were perpetuating practices that left nursing home residents exposed to COVID-19.

The new Targeted Inspection Policy and April Recommendations attempt to address these compliance and other concerns by updating, clarifying and supplementing previously established requirements and guidance, providing new tools for nursing homes and their inspectors to use to assess nursing home compliance with the latest standards and stepping up inspections and enforcement of nursing homes that experience COVID-19 outbreaks.[vii]

April Recommendations Send Warnings, Share New Tools

To this end, the just announced April Recommendations urge nursing homes to move quickly to clean up their practices by:

  • Urging nursing homes to immediately ensure that they are complying with all CMS and CDC guidance related to COVID-19 and other infection control and other requirements;
  • Urging nursing homes immediately to implement symptom screening for all staff, residents, and visitors – including temperature checks; [viii]
  • Urging nursing homes to ensure all staff are using appropriate PPE when interacting with patients and residents, to the extent PPE is available and per CDC guidance on conservation of PPE;
  • Confirming the availability of Medicare coverage of Medicare enrolled residents performed by laboratories and that facilities can allow laboratory personnel into facilities to perform the tests;
  • Urging State and local leaders to consider the needs of long term care facilities with respect to supplies of PPE and COVID-19 tests as nursing homes are a critical part of the healthcare system, and because of the ease of spread in long term care facilities and the severity of illness that occurs in residents with COVID-19,
  • Recommending facilities use separate staffing teams for residents to the best of their ability to avoid transmission within nursing homes in response to evidence that using staff shared between multiple facilities helped to fuel the COVID-19 outbreak in the Kirkland Facilities;
  • Consistent previously published guidance and resources on the CDC Isolation Sites and Alternative Care Sites webpage,[ix] urging nursing homes to work with State and local leaders to designate separate facilities or units within a facility to separate COVID-19 negative residents from COVID-19 positive residents and individuals with unknown COVID-19 status; and
  • Encouraging  facilities to use new targeted survey assessment tools adopted by CMS to guide inspections under the Targeted Inspection Program to self-assess and make appropriate adjustments to tighten their facility compliance with applicable requirements and guidelines promptly.

While characterized as “recommendations,” the reaffirmation in the April Recommendations that CMS intends to continue to follow the new Targeted Inspection Policy announced March 23, 2020 sends a strong message to all nursing homes that CMS does not view compliance with the recommendations as optional.

Under the Targeted Inspection Policy, CMS intends to conduct targeted inspections giving prioritization for Immediate Jeopardy investigations over recertification surveys for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) laboratories.

According to CMS’ announcement regarding the Targeted Inspection Policy, only the following types of federal inspections will be prioritized and conducted over the next few weeks:

  • Complaint inspections: State survey agencies will continue to conduct inspections related to complaints and facility-reported incidents that are triaged at the Immediate Jeopardy level. Inspectors will use a streamlined Infection Control review tool, regardless of the Immediate Jeopardy allegation.
  • Targeted Infection Control inspectionsFederal and state inspectors will conduct targeted infection control inspections of providers identified through CMS collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These inspectors will use a streamlined targeted review checklist to minimize the impact on provider activities, while ensuring providers are implementing actions to protect health and safety.  This will consist of both onsite and offsite inspections.
  • Self-AssessmentsThe Infection Control checklist referenced above will also be shared with providers and suppliers, to allow for self-assessment of their Infection Control plans.  This may be the best solution in some cases when there is a lack of personal protective equipment or state surveyors available.

During this time frame, CMS has indicated it will not conduct the following inspections:

  • Standard inspections for nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and hospices; and
  • Revisit inspections not associated with Immediate Jeopardy.

In addition to redefining the priorities and scope for conducting inspections in the new Targeted Inspection Policy, CMS also refocused the inspection process that surveyors are expected to use when conducting inspections under the Targeted Inspection Policy which includes existing components of CMS’s infection control inspection process updated to include the latest CDC and CMS guidance. Under the Targeted Inspection Policy CMS and state inspectors will be guided by a newly developed and updated targeted assessment tool in assessing if certain facilities are prepared to meet CMS’s expectations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.  When gaps are identified, CMS warns that facilities will be required to take corrective actions to close the gaps.

Facilities are well advised to follow the recommendation of CMS to use the new surveyor tools to self-assess their own ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with applicable CMS requirements both to mitigate potential exposures to CMS sanctions and because CMS also is encouraging residents and families to be proactive about nursing home safety by among other things asking facility staff how the facility performed on its self-assessment.  Facilities and their leaders at all times should keep in mind the significant risks that they are likely to incur if significant deficiencies are found from an inspection.  While the March 23, 2020 announcement of the Targeted Inspection Policy states that CMS is not seeking to be punitive, but rather to respond to urgent issues while proactively ensuring providers are compliant with federal health and safety standards.  Accordingly, CMS has indicated that CMS intends to exercise enforcement discretion, unless Immediate Jeopardy situations arise.  Given the conclusions announced regarding Immediate Jeopardy findings found from the inspection at the Kirkland Facility, however, nursing homes are well advised to assume that the occurrence of COVID-19 related deaths or infections at their facilities might create a significant risk of Immediate Jeopardy findings with regard to their facilities which could result in significant sanctions.

CMS and other agencies continue to tailor their response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  In addition to verifying and maintaining their compliance with current COVID-19 and other CMS, CDC and state and local requirements and guidelines, nursing homes and their leaders also should continue to monitor emerging developments and guidance from CMS, CDC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) and their state and local regulatory bodies.

[i]  Nursing homes (also known as “skilled nursing facilities” under the Medicare program and “nursing facilities” under Medicaid; or “long-term care facilities”).

[ii]  Press release Trump Administration Issues Key Recommendations to Nursing Homes, State and Local Governments, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-issues-key-recommendations-nursing-homes-state-and-local-governments (last visited Apr 2, 2020).

[iii] Fact sheet Kirkland, Washington Update and Survey Prioritization Fact Sheet, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/kirkland-washington-update-and-survey-prioritization-fact-sheet (last visited Mar 31, 2020).

[iv]  Guidance For Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES (2020), https://www.cms.gov/files/document/3-13-2020-nursing-home-guidance-covid-19.pdf (last visited Mar 30, 2020).

[iv]  Nursing home with the biggest cluster of covid-19 deaths to date in the U.S. thought it was facing an influenza outbreak, a spokesman says, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/nursing-home-with-the-biggest-cluster-of-covid-19-deaths-to-date-in-the-us-thought-it-was-facing-an-influenza-outbreak-a-spokesman-says/ar-BB11fvgj (last visited Mar 30, 2020).

 [vi]  See e.g., Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (REVISED), CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/files/document/qso-20-14-nh-revised.pdf (last visited Apr 2, 2020).

[vii]  In the initial wave of surveys during the week of March 30, CMS reports finding 36 percent of facilities inspected in recent days did not follow proper hand washing guidelines and 25 percent failed to demonstrate proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) required by longstanding federal regulations.  Press release Trump Administration Issues Key Recommendations to Nursing Homes, State and Local Governments, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-issues-key-recommendations-nursing-homes-state-and-local-governments (last visited Apr 3, 2020).

[viii]  Facilities that have not already done so should consult with experienced legal counsel for assistance about the advisability of providing or posting notifications and/or securing consents to these screening procedures, advisable or recommended procedures regarding the collection, use, or disclosure of screenings or their results, or other safeguards to manage relevant privacy or other legal rights or risks.

[ix]  See Alternate Care Sites and Isolation Sites (March 25, 2020) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/healthcare-facilities/alternative-care-sites.html. Also see Topic Collection: Alternate Care Sites (including shelter medical care) https://asprtracie.hhs.gov/technical-resources/48/alternate-care-sites-including-shelter-medical-care/47.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. In addition to this update, the author also has prepared a more comprehensive discussion of these concerns scheduled for publication by the American Bar Association Health Publication in April, 2020.  To request access for a prepublication unofficial manuscript of that upcoming publication or of 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:

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


COVID-19 Telehealth Relief; CMS ESRD, General Practitioner Telehealth Toolkits Released

March 24, 2020

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act Privacy Rule 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency enforcement relief for certain covered health care providers and their business associates participating in the operation of mobile, drive-through, or walk-up COVID-19 specimen collection and testing sites that only provide COVID-19 specimen collection or testing services to the public (Community-Based Testing Sites, or CBTS).  The Notification of Enforcement Discretion ON CBTS During The COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency (“Notice”) expands upon the series of HIPAA enforcement relief and other flexibility OCR has granted to health care providers and other HIPAA-covered entities and business associates when dealing with the COVID-19 National Health Emergency declared by President Trump on March 13, 2020.

While welcome relief for those health care providers and business associates that qualify for this relief, it is critical that all health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates do not overlook the importance of ensuring their HIPAA obligations are fulfilled amid the frenzy of coping with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.  Like OCR’s previously announced March 30, 2020 Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency (“Telehealth Relief”) and the COVID-19 related flexibilities granted by OCR in its February 2020 Office for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services BULLETIN: HIPAA Privacy and Novel Coronavirus (“OCR COVID-19 HIPAA Bulletin”), the CBTS Notice provides valuable flexibility and relief for HIPAA covered entities and business associates that qualify for the granted relief.  While welcoming this relief, all covered entities and business associates need to keep in mind that the shifting of care locations, systems, affiliations and other arrangements to deal with the COVID-19 national health emergency generally are accompanied by changes in the collection, use, access, disclosure, storage and transmission of protected health information generally and electronic protected health information and its associated devices and systems.  Except to the extent protected by COVID-19 or other specific disaster relief from OCR, covered entities and business associates need to use care to conduct appropriately documented risk assessments and take other necessary steps to maintain HIPAA compliance in these operations and systems throughout the emergency.  See also COVID-19 Telehealth Relief; CMS ESRD, General Practitioner Telehealth Toolkits Released;  OCR Grants HIPAA Telemedicine Relief During COVID-19 Crisis.

April 9 HIPAA Enforcement Relief For Certain COVID-19 Testing Related Activities

According to Director Roger Severino, the limited enforcement relief  in the Notice is intended  “to encourage the growth of mobile testing sites so more people can get tested quickly and safely.”  Under the April 9, 2020 Notice, OCR will not impose penalties for violations of HIPAA regulatory requirements committed by covered entities or business associates in connection with their good faith participation in the operation of COVID-19 testing sites during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.  The enforcement relief provided by the s retroactive to violations committed on or after March 13, 2020 even though just announced on April 9.

The enforcement relief applies to all HIPAA covered health care providers and their business associates when such entities are, in good faith, participating in the operation of a CBTS.   According to the Notice, operation of a CBTS includes all activities that support the collection of specimens from individuals for COVID-19 testing.  Covered entities and business associates intending to rely upon the enforcement relief need to understand its limited scope. The relief only applies to health care providers or their business associates when participating in CBTS related activities. It does not apply to non-CBTS related activities of health care providers  or their business associates including the handling of PHI outside of the operation of a CBTS or to health plans, health care clearinghouses, or their business associates performing health plan and clearinghouse functions. To the extent that an entity performs both plan and provider functions, the Notice says the relief only applies to the entity in its role as a covered health care provider and only to the extent that it participates in a CBTS.  Covered entities and business associates not covered by the CBTS relief provided by the Notice generally remain subject to all otherwise applicable HIPAA requirements except as otherwise provided in the Telehealth Relief or other COVID-19 related flexibilities granted by OCR in the OCR COVID-19 HIPAA Bulletin or other previously issued HIPAA guidance for dealing with public emergencies,

While committing that OCR will not take HIPAA enforcement action against covered entities or business associates for violating HIPAA’s regulatory requirements during the COVID-19 emergency, the Notice nevertheless encourages covered entities and business associates participating in the good faith operation of a CBTS to implement reasonable safeguards to protect the privacy and security of individuals’ PHI including:

  • Using and disclosing only the minimum PHI necessary except when disclosing PHI for treatment.
  • Setting up canopies or similar opaque barriers at a CBTS to provide some privacy to individuals during the collection of samples.
  • Controlling foot and car traffic to create adequate distancing at the point of service to minimize the ability of persons to see or overhear screening interactions at a CBTS. (A six foot distance would serve this purpose as well as supporting recommended social distancing measures to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.)
  • Establishing a “buffer zone” to prevent members of the media or public from observing or filming individuals who approach a CBTS, and posting signs prohibiting filming.
  • Using secure technology at a CBTS to record and transmit electronic PHI.
  • Posting a Notice of Privacy Practices (NPP), or information about how to find the NPP online, if applicable, in a place that is readily viewable by individuals who approach a CBTS.

While OCR says the Notice’s enforcement relief for CBTS related activity is not conditional upon adherence to these recommendations, CBTS involved covered entities and business associations should keep in mind that the OCR relief does not necessarily affect their otherwise applicable requirements, if any, to comply to these and other health or medical privacy, data security, confidentiality or other similar requirements applicable under otherwise applicable state statutory or common laws, regulations, accreditation or credentialing, contractual or other legally relevant requirements or standards.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released two comprehensive toolkits on telehealth:

  • The Telehealth Toolkit for General Practitioners available here;
  • The End-Stage Renal Disease Providers Toolkit available here.

The Toolkits’ release follows up on last week’s Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (“CMS”) loosening of requirements for Medicare coverage of telehealth services and privacy and data security requirements so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility on a temporary and emergency basis under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.

COVID-19 Emergency TeleHealth Waivers & Rules

Under this temporary new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patient’s places of residence starting March 6, 2020.  The waiver applies to a range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to their patients.

  • New TeleHealth Toolkits

Each of the telehealth toolkits released today contains electronic links to reliable sources of information on telehealth and telemedicine, which will reduce the amount of time providers spend searching for answers and increase their time with patients. HHS intends these links to help providers choose learn about the general concept of telehealth, choose telemedicine vendors, initiate a telemedicine program, monitor patients remotely, and develop documentation tools. Additionally, the information contained within each toolkit also outlines temporary virtual services that could be used to treat patients during this specific period of time.

  • COVID-19 Temporary Limited Scope HIPAA Privacy Telehealth Relief

The HHS COVID-19 emergency teleheath waivers follow up on the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) March 20, 2020 Notification of Enforcement Discretion on Telehealth Remote Communications (the “Notice”) announcing temporary, limited scope enforcement relief from some, but not all of the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules for health care providers using “non-public facing” communication technologies to provide telemedicine services during the COVID-19 health care emergency

Intended to allow health care providers greater latitude under HIPAA to  communicate with patients and provide telehealth services through remote communications technologies during the COVID-19 national emergency, the Notice allows covered health care providers wishing to use audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency the option to  any availabe “non-public facing” remote communication product to communicate with patients if the platform by verifying the platform is HIPAA compliant and securing the necessary business associate agreement (“BAA”) with the communication provider.

Specifically the Notice announces OCR is exercising its enforcement discretion  not to impose penalties for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth using non-public facing audio or video communication products during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency in accordance with the requirements set forth in the Notice.  The non-enforcement policy applies to telehealth provided for any reason, regardless of whether the telehealth service is related to the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions related to COVID-19.   During the COVID-19 emergency, this relief for non-public facing remote communications allows a health care providers  the flexibility when it determines appropriate in his or her professional judgement to request to examine a patient using a video chat application connecting the provider’s or patient’s phone or desktop computer in order to assess a greater number of patients while limiting the risk of infection of other persons who would be exposed from an in-person consultation.

The relief does not apply to “public facing” remote communications however,  Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications are considered “public facing.”  The OCR bulletin states health care providers should not use any of these or other public facing remote communications to provide telehealth services under the Bulletin.

The Notice also alerts health care providers providing telemedicine services under the Notice need to ensure they have in place appropriate business associate agreements {“BAAs”) with each technology vendors used to conduct these communications and that the vendor is otherwise HIPAA compliant.  The Notice lists the following as some vendors that have represented to OCR that they provide HIPAA-compliant video communication products and that they will enter into a HIPAA BAA include:

  • Skype for Business
  • Updox
  • VSee
  • Zoom for Healthcare
  • me
  • Google G Suite Hangouts Meet

Providers should note that the Notice also states that OCR does not endorse, recommend or certify any of these vendors or the adequacy of their BAAs.  Consequently, providers intending to use any of thes platforms should conduct their own documented due diligence to confirm that the necessary HIPAA requirements are met.    Providers also should keep in mind that the OCR Notice does not modify any otherwise applicable federal or state law, contractual or ethical requirements that may apply to their use of these telemedicine platforms.  As many provider’s HIPAA notices may have included statements inconsistent with the use of these technologies, the provider should consider providing notification of the change of its practices that includes disclosures about potentially lower privacy protections.  Because the relief is limited in scope and duration, providers relying on the relief also will need to closely monitor developments and adjust practices as necessary when the emergency waivers expire or are modified.

Covered Entities & Business Associates Should Conduct Documented Risk Assessment To Verify Compliance Taking Into Account COVID-19 Operational Changes & Relief

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates hoping to rely upon the relief in the CBTS Notice, the Telehealth Relief,  the OCR COVID-19 HIPAA Bulletin or other previously issued HIPAA guidance for dealing with public emergencies, need to verify their qualification and compliance with that guidance.  In the meantime, all HIPAA covered entities and business associates also should be cognizant of the advisability of also conducting timely, documented risk assessments and taking other necessary steps to ensure that they can demonstrate that their ongoing operations, taking into account any COVID-19 specific changes in operations, systems, locations, business associates or other HIPAA relevant arrangements or operations, comply with all remaining relevant requirements of HIPAA or other relevant federal or state statutory, regulatory, common law, ethical, contractual or other requirements. This is particularly important with respect to modification locations, equipment, or other COVID-19 related changes may impact or disrupt usual operations or involve the use, access, disclosure, retention or transmission of protected health information or other sensitive data outside of processes, systems or location previously subject to a risk assessment to confirm and document adequate compliance with HIPAA or other relevant requirements.  To the extent that any deficiencies may have occurred, timely action should be taken to conduct an appropriate documented investigation and risk assessment, and provide any necessary breach notification or other corrective action necessary to correct or mitigate those events.  Because of the potential sensitivity of these activities, health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associations should consider contacting experienced legal counsel to arrange for those activities to be structured to preserve the possibility of using attorney-client privilege or other legal privileges to help defend sensitive communications or evaluations against discovery in the event of a future litigation or administrative investigation.

More Information & Resources

We hope this update is helpful. If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.  To learn more about Ms. Stamer, her services, experience, publications or involvements; to review or request other developments, publications, resources and tools; or to register for future updates, see www.cynthiastamer.com, see www.cynthiastamer.com; connect on LinkedIn or Facebook; or contact us via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297

About The Author

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

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Ms. Stamer is widely recognized for her pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on domestic and international, public and private sector health care and managed care, workforce and performance, safety, legal and operational compliance and risk management, crisis preparedness and response, and other essential legal and operational concerns.

Her experience includes extensive work domestically and internationally with hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing and other long term care, rehabilitation and other health care facilities; physicians, medical staff and other health care providers and organizations; accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations;  health care management and technology and other health and managed care industry clients; self-insured and insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and service providers and other payers; employers; billing, utilization management, quality, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

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

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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 and Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ reserve 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.  Readers acknowledge and agree to the conditions of this Notice as a condition of their access 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. ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Limited non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™.


New Texas Law Requiring Anti-Retaliation Policies For Nonprofit Healthcare Org’s Takes Effect 1/1

December 27, 2019

Nonprofit health organizations must develop anti-retaliation policies for doctors and submit biennial reports to the Texas Medical Board in response to a House Bill 1532 mandate that takes effect January 1, 2020.

Passed by the Texas Legislature on September 1, 2019, the Bill also amends the Medical Practice Act to require the Texas Medical Board to accept and process complaints against a certified nonprofit health organization in the same manner it would handle complaints against a health professional.

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 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’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.


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.


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

August 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer’s clients include employer, associations, government and other health benefit sponsors and administrators, public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry, insurance, technology, government and other management clients.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer has been extensively involved in U.S. federal, state and local health care and other legislative and regulatory reform impacting these concerns throughout her career.

Beyond her public policy and regulatory affairs involvement, Ms. Stamer also has extensive experience helping these and other clients to design and reform programs and practices; establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to government; accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement actions; evaluate and influence legislative and regulatory reforms and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer has extensive health care reimbursement and insurance experience advising and defending health care providers, payers, and others about Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage, Tri-Care, self-insured group, association, individual and employer and association group and other health benefit programs and coverages including but not limited to advising public and private payers about coverage and program design and documentation, advising and defending providers, payers and systems and billing services entities about systems and process design, audits, and other processes; provider credentialing, and contracting; providers and payer billing, reimbursement, claims audits, denials and appeals, coverage coordination, reporting, direct contracting, False Claims Act, Medicare & Medicaid, ERISA, state Prompt Pay, out-of-network and other nonpar insured, and other health care claims, prepayment, post-payment and other coverage, claims denials, appeals, billing and fraud investigations and actions and other reimbursement and payment related investigation, enforcement, litigation and actions.

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Check Out CMS 2018 Qualified Clinical Data Registry

February 23, 2018

Physicians and other practitioners should check out the measure specifications for the approved 2018 Qualified Clinical Data Registry (QCDR) measures posted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) yesterday (February 22, 2018).

Rather than being grouped by QCDR, this file allows users to group measures by specialty and topic to see what QCDR measures are most applicable to their practice and/or specialty.

CMS also says, the posting of this specification file will act as a reference tool for existing and potential new QCDR vendors who may be interested in developing their own QCDR measures, and should help them to avoid developing and submitting measures that are duplicative of existing QCDR measures.

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, insurers and financial services, and other clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

Fresenius Medical Care Pays $3.5 Million HIPAA Settlement

CDC Director Fitzgerald Resigns

Development of Potentially Preventable Hospitalization Measures for Home Health Agencies Panelist Nominations Due 9/22

MAC Operations Continue During Shutdown

HHS Proposes “Conscience Rule” Expanding Abortion And Other Religious Choice

New Medicaid Guidance Gives States More Flexibility On Abortion

New Trump Executive Order Directs More Veterans Health Care Choice, Mental Health Care

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

Bill Allowing FDA Emergency Use Authorizations To Protect Military From Biological Warfare Threats Sent to President

OIG Tells Texas Stop Paying Medicaid MCOs For Dead Patients

Michigan Doctor Pleads Guilty To Billing Medicare For Illegally Prescribed Drugs

Anesthesiology Practice Nailed For Improperly Billing For Moderate Sedation

Florida Doctor Sentenced For Multi-Million Dollar Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treatment Health Care Fraud, Money Laundering & Forced Prostitution Scheme

CMS Announces New Medicare Provider Ombudsman

Comment By 1/8 on Guidance for Industry on Expedited Programs for Serious Conditions– Drugs and Biologics

Time To Tighten Business Travel Policies

DOL Spending Reports Required As Taxpayer Tool Need Improvement

Check & Protect Health & Other Electronic Systems & Data Against New Security Threat

Success 2018

April 1 New Deadline To Update Benefit Plan Disability Determination Claims & Appeals Procedures; Hear More on 1/26

Arizona Proposal To Ban Sexual Harassment Confidentiality Agreements Sign Of Growing Employer Risks

$23M Penalty Small Part of 21st Century’s Data Breach Fallout; Offers Data Breach Lessons For Other Businesses

Take Care of Your Good People

Read Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Conference Report For Tax Reform From Source

Check How IRS 2018 Retirement & Saving Plan Limits and Amounts Cost Of Living Adjustments Impact Your HR & Retirement Plan Administration & Planning

Confirm Your Benefit Plans Ready For New Disability Determination Rules on 1/1/18

Individual Accountability For Performance Matters

Give NLRB Your Input On Union Representation Election Regulations

IRS Prepares To Nail Employers Under Obamacare Mandate While Giving Some Individual Mandate Relief 

HHS Picks Hargan As Acting HHS Secretary

OCR Gives Health Care Providers, Other Covered Entities Post-Las Vegas Shooting HIPAA Medical Privacy Guidance On Disclosures To Family, Media & Others For Notification & Other Purposes

RAISE Act Immigration Visa, Visa Holder Public Benefit Limits Create Potential Health Industry Concerns 

SCOTUS Bars State Law Restrictions On Health, Other Arbitration Agreement Enforceability 

Health Care, Health Plan & Other Health IT Systems Warned of E-Mail Cyber Attack 

$2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI

CardioNet $2.5M HIPAA Resolution Agreement Schools HIPAA Entities To Clean Up Their Acts 

Medical Clinic HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need For Current Business Associate Agreements

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

February 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FileFax, Inc.  Breach & Resolution Agreement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCR Enforces HIPAA Against Covered Entities & Business Associates In Bankruptcy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIPAA & Data Breach Enforcement & Other Risks Growing 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As part of this process, Covered Entities and business associates should maintain strong and ongoing processes for assessing and monitoring the adequacy of their policies and practices.  In addition to ensuring that their organization has a comprehensive risk management and compliance assessment, Covered Entities and business associates need to conduct documented periodic audits and spot HIPAA audits and assessments.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, insurers and financial services, and other clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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

 


Fresenius Medical Care Pays $3.5 Million HIPAA Settlement

February 2, 2018

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

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

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rule Responsibilities & Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fresenius Breach, Charges & Settlement Agreement Illustrate Civil Exposures

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

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

OCR concluded its investigation showed the breaches resulted because FMCNA failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI.  OCR also concluded:

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

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

 

HIPAA Enforcement A Growing Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As part of this process, covered entities and business associates should start by reviewing and updating their policies, HIPAA audits and assessments and other documentation and processes.  In doing so, they must use care to look outside the four corners of their Privacy Policies and core operating systems to ensure that their policies, practices, oversight and training address all protected health information within their operations on an entity wide basis. This entity-wide assessment should include both communications and requests for information normally addressed to the Privacy Officer as well as requests and communications that could arise in the course of media or other public relations, practice transition, workforce communication and other operations not typically under the direct oversight and management of the Privacy Officer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

December 29, 2017

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

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

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

 21CO HIPAA Breaches & Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurer Funding $2.3 Million Settlement Payment For Bankrupt 21CO

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

Settlements Highlight Growing Risks Of Noncompliance, Lack Data Security

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011 and author of a multitude of highly regarded publications on HIPAA and other health care, insurance, financial and other privacy and data security, Ms. Stamer is widely known for her extensive and leading edge experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


Review Your Provider Performance Data

December 13, 2017

January 3 is Deadline for Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF) and Long-term Care Hospital (LTCH) providers to review their Medicare performance data on each quality measure based on Quarter 2 -2016 to Quarter 1 – 2017 data, before the March 2018 IRF and LTCH Compare refresh, during which this data will be publicly displayed.

Providers have until January 3, 2018 to review their performance data.

Corrections to the underlying data will not be permitted during this time. However, providers can request a CMS review during the preview period if they believe their data is inaccurate.

For more information, see:

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.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports these organizations and their leaders on both a real-time, “on demand” basis as well as outsourced operations or special counsel on an interim, special project, or ongoing basis with strategic planning and product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management, crisis preparedness and response as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

As core components of this work, Ms. Stamer helps health industry, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients manage regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other private payer and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, antikickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; 1557 and other Civil Rights; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Her 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, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; 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 investigation, enforcement including insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development, contracting, deployment and defense; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement, and a host of other related concerns for public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, employers, and others.and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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

For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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 advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

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

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


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

October 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management, disaster and other crisis preparedness and response, and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes career long involvement in advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disaster and other crisis preparation, response and mitigation arising from natural and man-made disasters, government enforcement, financial distress, workplace emergencies and accidents, data breach and other cybersecurity and other events.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


HHS Picks Hargan As Acting HHS Secretary

October 11, 2017

President Trump has appointed Eric D. Hargan Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Hargan, who was just sworn into office as Deputy Secretary of HHS on Oct. 6, 2017, takes over the duties of former Secretary Dr. Tom Price, who recently resigned in response to criticism about his expenditures for charter flights.

Before joining HHS, Mr. Hargan was an attorney, most recently a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Chicago office in the Health and FDA Business department, where he focused his practice on transactions, healthcare regulations and government relations. He represented investors, companies, and individuals in healthcare investments and issues across the entire sector.

From 2003 to 2007, Mr. Hargan served at HHS in a variety of capacities, ultimately holding the position of Acting Deputy Secretary. During his tenure at HHS, Mr. Hargan also served as the Department’s Regulatory Policy Officer, overseeing the development and approval of all HHS, CMS, and FDA regulations and significant guidances.

Prior to this role, he served HHS as Deputy General Counsel. More recently, he was tapped by Governor Bruce Rauner to serve during transition as lead co-chair for Gov. Rauner’s Healthcare and Human Services committee.

During his time in Illinois, Mr. Hargan taught at Loyola Law School in Chicago, focusing on administrative law and healthcare regulations. He was a member of the U.S. government team at the inaugural U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in Beijing in 2006-2007, worked with the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control to advance biosecurity in developing nations, and initiated and led the HHS team that developed the first responses to international food safety and importation issues in 2007.

He received his B.A. cum laude from Harvard University, and his J.D. from Columbia University Law School, where he was Senior Editor of the Columbia Law Review. Mr. Hargan also received a Certificate in International Law from the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law at Columbia University.

Before returning to Washington, D.C., Mr. Hargan lived in the suburbs of Chicago with his wife, Emily, and their two sons.

About The Author

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

Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management, disaster and other crisis preparedness and response, and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes career long involvement in advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disaster and other crisis preparation, response and mitigation arising from natural and man-made disasters, government enforcement, financial distress, workplace emergencies and accidents, data breach and other cybersecurity and other events.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


OCR Gives Health Care Providers, Other Covered Entities Post-Las Vegas Shooting HIPAA Medical Privacy Guidance On Disclosures To Family, Media & Others For Notification & Other Purposes

October 9, 2017

Widespread media coverage of this week’s Las Vegas, Nevada mass shooting (Las Vegas Shooting), and recent Hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico shows the barrage of requests for patient information from emergency and disaster response personnel, concerned family and friends, the media or others about the identity, status and other circumstances of patients and other individuals that health care providers caring for patients following a mass disaster or other emergency.

The tight restrictions and potentially stiff penalties authorized under the Health Insurance Portability And Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rule (Privacy Rule)  on health care providers, health plans, and health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) for improperly disclosing information about identifiable patients under the Privacy Rule necessitate that health care providers and other Covered Persons exercise great care to ensure that statements and other disclosures of identifiable patient information either are authorized in writing in accordance with HIPAA or otherwise specifically allowed under the Privacy Rule. See, e.g., $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI; $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Message Warns Health Plans & Providers Against Sharing Medical Info With Media, Others;  $2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use.

Following the Las Vegas Shooting, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on October 3, 2017 issued an announcement on “Disclosures to Family, Friends, and Others Involved in an Individual’s Care and for Notification” (Announcement) intended to clarify certain limited situations when OCR interprets the Privacy Rule as allowing Covered Entities to disclose PHI to individuals involved in the patient’s care, the media or other parties not involved in the patient’s care for notification purposes without prior patient authorization.  Health care providers and other Covered Entities should review and update their existing Privacy Rule policies, practices and training in response to this and other evolving guidance to help prepare their teams appropriately to respond to family, media and other inquiries about patients in emergency and other circumstances.

Privacy Rule Generally

While mass shooting events like the Las Vegas Shooting, recent hurricanes, Ebola or other contagious disease outbreak and other mass injury or illness events garner widespread media and public attention, health care providers and other Covered Entities also regularly field requests for PHI about current or former patients from family and others involved in patients’ care or treatment, law enforcement, law enforcement, and the media or other members of the general public not involved in patient care.

The Privacy Rule generally requires Covered Entities to keep confidential, and prohibits Covered Entities from disclosing individually identifiable health care information about a patient that qualifies as “protected health information” or “PHI” without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization unless the disclosure meets all the requirements to fall under an exception defined in the Privacy Rule.

Since HIPAA’s broad definition of PHI encompasses even the name, identity and even existence of a patient, as well as more specific information about the current or past health condition and treatment of a patient, health care providers and other Covered Entities must prepare and train their staff to be prepared appropriately to comply with the Privacy Rules even when considering disclosing PHI to identify an incapacitated patient, notify or respond to inquiries of family or others involved in caring for patient during an emergency or disaster.

As OCR guidance consistently reaffirms, the Privacy Rule’s general prohibition against PHI without prior patient authorization and other requirements generally still apply during public health or other emergencies.[1] While Social Security Act § 1135(b)(7) allows HHS temporarily to waive sanctions and penalties for violations of some, but not all Privacy Rule requirements by a covered hospitals operating under disaster protocols during periods the President declares an emergency or disaster and the HHS Secretary declares a public health emergency as in response to Hurricanes Katrina,[2]Harvey,[3] Irma,[4]  and Maria,[5] this relief is rarely applicable, and limited in scope, applicability and duration.[6]  Consequently, Covered Entities still need to ensure that any contemplated disclosure is either authorized or meets all requirements the Privacy Rule requires to fall under an exemption to its general prohibition against unauthorized disclosure to avoid becoming subject to civil or even criminal sanctions under the Privacy Rule even when responding to inquiries during mass disaster, public health emergency or other exigent circumstances.

As discussed in November 2016 OCR Bulletin On HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations, the Privacy Rule includes various exceptions that may allow a health care provider or other Covered Entity to disclose the PHI of a patient involved in a public health or other emergency without patient authorization including:

  • PHI about the patient necessary to treat the patient or to treat a different patient including the coordination or management of health care and related services by one or more health care providers and others, consultation between providers, and the referral of patients for treatment. See 45 CFR §§ 164.502(a)(1)(ii), 164.506(c), and the definition of “treatment” at 164.501;
  • To a public health authority, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or a state or local health department, authorized by law to collect or receive such information for the purpose of preventing or controlling disease, injury or disability. See 45 CFR §§ 164.501 and 164.512(b)(1)(i);
  • As necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public when consistent with applicable law (such as state statutes, regulations, or case law) and the provider’s standards of ethical conduct. See 45 CFR 164.512(j);
  • To a patient’s family members, relatives, friends, or other persons identified by the patient as involved in the patient’s care or as necessary to identify, locate, and notify family members, guardians, or anyone else responsible for the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death provided that the Covered Entity gets at least verbal permission from individuals or otherwise be able to reasonably infer that the patient does not object, when possible; or if the individual is incapacitated or not available, in the Covered Entity’s professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest. See 45 CFR 164.510(b);
  • With disaster relief organizations that, like the American Red Cross, are authorized by law or by their charters to assist in disaster relief efforts, for the purpose of coordinating the notification of family members or other persons involved in the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death without authorization if doing so would interfere with the organization’s ability to respond to the emergency; or
  • Limited facility directory information to acknowledge an individual is a patient at the facility and provide basic information about the patient’s condition in general terms (e.g., critical or stable, deceased, or treated and released) to the media or others not involved in the care of the patient upon request for information about a particular patient by name, if the patient has not objected to or restricted the release of such information or, if the patient is incapacitated, if the disclosure is believed to be in the best interest of the patient and is consistent with any prior expressed preferences of the patient. See 45 CFR 164.510(a).

See also Compliance Guidance and Enforcement Statement.

Announcement Clarifies Privacy Rules For Disclosures To Individuals Involved In Patient’s Care; For Notification; And To Media Or Others Not Involved In Patient Care

The new OCR Announcement provides clarification of the applicability of the Privacy Rule exemptions regarding disclosures of PHI by health care providers or other Covered Entities:

  • To individuals involved in the patient’s care or for notification purposes; or
  • To media or other individuals not involved in the patient’s care.

In addition, the Announcement also reminds Covered Entities:

  • Of their responsibility to limit disclosures made without HIPAA-compliant patient authorization other than for treatment purposes to the minimum necessary,
  • That the Privacy Rule allows Covered Entities to rely upon certifications that information requested by public health authorities or officials that the information requested is the minimum necessary; and
  • To continue to enforce role-based restrictions on PHI.
  • Disclosures to Family, Friends, Disaster Relief Responders and Others Involved in an Individual’s Care and for Notification

Privacy Rule §164.510(b) permits a Covered Entity to share PHI:

  • With a patient’s family members, relatives, friends, or other persons identified by the patient as involved in the patient’s care.
  • About a patient as necessary to identify, locate, and notify family members, guardians, or anyone else responsible for the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death.  This may include, where necessary to notify family members and others, the police, the press, or the public at large.  See Privacy Rule § 164.510(b).

When making such disclosures, the Announcement states a Covered Entity should get verbal permission from individuals or otherwise be able to reasonably infer that the patient does not object, when possible.

Concerning patients who are unconscious or incapacitated, the OCR guidance also states that a health care provider may share relevant information about the patient with family, friends, or others involved in the patient’s care or payment for care, if the health care provider in its professional judgement determines that doing so is in the best interests of the patient.

In addition, OCR says Covered Entities also may share PHI with disaster relief organizations that, like the American Red Cross, are authorized by law or by their charters to assist in disaster relief efforts, for the purpose of coordinating the notification of family members or other persons involved in the patient’s care, of the patient’s location, general condition, or death.  When disclosing PHI to disaster relief organizations, the Announcement states it is unnecessary to obtain a patient’s permission to share the information in this situation if doing so would interfere with the organization’s ability to respond to the emergency.

  • Disclosures to the Media or Others Not Involved in the Care of the Patient/Notification

As the Las Vegas Shooting illustrates, health care providers and other Covered Entities caring for patients during public health or other emergency situations often must deal with news or other media crews on or around treatment or other health care facilities and media and inquiries from the media or others about the identity, status or other PHI of patients. OCR’s past imposition of stiff penalties against other Covered Entities for improperly disclosing patient PHI to the media or the public without authorization alert Covered Entities of HIPAA risks of failing to properly control access and disclosures of PHI to the media or other general public without obtaining prior written authorization from patients or their personal representatives. See e.g., $2.4M HIPAA Settlement Warns Providers About Media Disclosures Of PHI. See also HIPAA Sanctions Triggered From Covered Entity Statements To Media, Workforce.

Previously issued OCR guidance makes clear that health care providers and other Covered Entities risk sanction both from allowing media or other members of the public inappropriate access to patient treatment or other areas with unsecured PHI as well as media statements and other disclosures of PHI to the media or public without first obtaining a HIPAA-compliant authorization except under narrow circumstances specified in the Privacy Rule.. See 45 CFR 164.510(a). OCR FAQ on Disclosures to the Media, for instance, states:

“the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit health care providers to disclose PHI to media personnel, including film crews, without having previously obtained a HIPAA-compliant authorization signed by the patient or his or her personal representative. In other words, health care providers may not allow members of the media, including film crews, into treatment areas of their facilities or other areas where PHI will be accessible in written, electronic, oral or other visual or audio form, without prior authorization from the patients who are or will be in the area or whose PHI will be accessible to the media.  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 health care provider 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.

While emphasizing the Privacy Rule’s general requirement to secure advance authorization, OCR FAQ on Disclosures to the Media also recognizes the following “very limited situations” that the Privacy Rule permits a Covered Entity to disclose limited PHI to the media without obtaining a HIPAA authorization:

  • A Covered Entity may disclose limited PHI about an unidentified incapacitated patient to the media seek to have the media help identify or locate the family of an unidentified and incapacitated patient in its care if, in the hospital’s professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.510(b)(1)(ii);
  • A Covered Entity may 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.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.510(a);
  • 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, which may include public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility;
  • A health care provider may utilize the services of a contract film crew to produce training videos or public relations materials on the provider’s behalf if certain protections are in place.  If patients are to be identified by the provider and interviewed by a film crew, or if PHI might be accessible during filming or otherwise disclosed, the provider must enter into a HIPAA business associate agreement with the film crew acting as a business associate.  Among other requirements, the business associate agreement must ensure 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.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.504(e)(2).  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, authorizations from patients whose PHI is included in any materials would be required before such materials are posted online, printed in brochures for the public, or otherwise publicly disseminated; and
  • 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 without the prior authorization of the individuals who are the subject of the PHI.

The Announcement reaffirms the general principles stated in this and other prior guidance concerning Covered Entities dealings with the media and public and clarifies its interpretation about what PHI, if any, the Privacy Rule allows hospitals and other health care providers about PHI may share in response to requests from the media or other individuals not involved in the care of a patient without first obtaining an authorization.

The Announcement reaffirms that affirmative reporting to the media or the public at large about an identifiable patient, or the disclosure to the public or media of specific information about treatment of an identifiable patient, such as specific tests, test results or details of a patient’s illness, may not be done without the patient’s written authorization (or the written authorization of a personal representative who is a person legally authorized to make health care decisions for the patient) that complies with HIPAA’s authorization requirements. See 45 CFR 164.508.

The Announcement also clarifies, however, that Covered Entities that are hospitals or health care facilities that receive a request for information about a particular patient by name may release limited facility directory information to acknowledge an individual is a patient at the facility and provide basic information about the patient’s condition in general terms (e.g., critical or stable, deceased, or treated and released) if the patient has not objected to or restricted the release of such information or, if the patient is incapacitated, if the disclosure is believed to be in the best interest of the patient and is consistent with any prior expressed preferences of the patient.

  • Minimum Necessary Requirements & Other Privacy Rule Responsibility Reminders

The Announcement also cautions Covered Entities of the need to ensure beyond ensuring that a disclosure falls under a Privacy Rule exception, Covered Entities also need to ensure that other requirements of the Privacy Rule applicable to the disclosure also are met.  In this respect, the Announcement cautions Covered Entities that the Privacy Rule requires they limit any otherwise permitted disclosure of PHI other than for treatment purposes made without obtaining a HIPAA-compliant patient authorization to the minimum necessary to achieve the allowed purpose, while also reminding Covered Entities that when making disclosures otherwise permitted to public health authorities or public officials, the Privacy Rule allows the Covered Entity to rely on representations from a public health authority or other public official that the requested information is the minimum necessary for the purpose.

Furthermore, the Announcement also warns Covered Entity that they should continue to apply their role-based access policies to limit access to PHI to only those workforce members who need it to carry out their duties. See Privacy Rules §§ 164.502(b), 164.514(d).

In addition to keeping in mind these Privacy Rule conditions, Covered Entities also need to take steps to ensure that their organizations and workforce also continue to follow all necessary procedures to ensure that their organizations can demonstrate continued compliance with other Privacy Rule requirements on verification, documentation and recordkeeping, accounting for disclosure, business associates and the like.  In this regard, it is important that Covered Entities and their business associates take appropriate steps to ensure that their workforce carefully creates and retains the documentation and records needed to defend their actions as well as to respond to HHS requests and/or requests for accounting or disclosure that might arise in the future.

Required Action: Review & Update Emergency & Other Practices, Training In Response To Evolving Guidance

The Privacy Rules and other OCR guidance make clear that health care providers and other Covered Entities and their business associates are expected both to implement and maintain their practices, policies, workforce training and safeguards appropriately to control use, access and disclosure in emergency and other situations as well as to implement the necessary systems and safeguards to protect sensitive PHI, electronic PHI and associated records and system from improper access from the media or others and damage or destruction from disaster or other events.

In recognition that maintaining Privacy and Security Rule Compliance can prove challenging for Covered Entities and their business associates during emergency or other exigent events, OCR has published various other guidance it hopes will help Covered Entities and business associates prepare for and respond to these challenges including its Disclosure For Emergency Preparedness Decision Tool; and Public Health Authority Disclosure Request Checklist.

Covered Entities and their business associates should act promptly to review and update their policies, practices, safeguards and workforce training as needed in response to the new Announcement and other OCR guidance promptly.

About The Author

Repeatedly recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney, management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for health and managed care, employee benefits, insurance and financial services, data and technology and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Nationally recognized for her work, experience, leadership and publications on HIPAA and other medical privacy and data use and security, FACTA, GLB, trade secrets and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with clients and the government on cybersecurity, technology and processes and other issues involved in the use and management of medical, insurance and other financial, workforce, trade secrets and other sensitive data and information throughout her career.  Scribe or co-scribe of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR since 2011, Ms. Stamer extensive experience, advising, representing, training and coaching health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, business associates, their information technology and other solutions providers and vendors, and others on HIPAA and other privacy, data security and cybersecurity design, documentation, administration, audit and oversight, business associate and other data and technology contracting, breach investigation and response, and other related concerns including extensive involvement representing clients in dealings with OCR and other Health & Human Services, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Labor, Department of Treasury, state health, insurance and attorneys’ general, Congress and state legislators and other federal officials.

Ms. Stamer also has an extensive contributes her leadership and insights with other professionals, industry leaders and lawmakers.    Her insights on HIPAA risk management and compliance often appear in medical privacy related publications of a broad range of health care, health plan and other industry publications Among others, she has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, SHRM, HIMMS, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

[1] See e.g. OCR Bulletin: HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations (November 2014).

[2] Disclosing PHI in Emergency Situations; Compliance Guidance and Enforcement Statement.

[3] August 2017 Hurricane Harvey Bulletin.

[4] September 2017 Hurricane Irma Bulletin.

[5] September 2017 Hurricane Maria Bulletin

[6] The HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended during a public health or other emergency; however, Section 1135(b)(7) of the Social Security Act allows HHS to waive sanctions and penalties against a covered hospital that does not comply with the following provisions of the Privacy Rule events if the President declares an emergency or disaster and the Secretary declares a public health emergency:

  • the requirements to obtain a patient’s agreement to speak with family members or friends involved in the patient’s care. See 45 CFR 164.510(b).
  • the requirement to honor a request to opt out of the facility directory. See 45 CFR 164.510(a).
  • the requirement to distribute a notice of privacy practices. See 45 CFR 164.520.
  • the patient’s right to request privacy restrictions. See 45 CFR 164.522(a).
  • the patient’s right to request confidential communications. See 45 CFR 164.522(b).

If the Secretary issues such a waiver, it only applies: (1) in the emergency area and for the emergency

period identified in the public health emergency declaration; (2) to hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and (3) for up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol.

When the Presidential or Secretarial declaration terminates, a hospital must then comply with all the requirements of the Privacy Rule for any patient still under its care, even if 72 hours has not elapsed since implementation of its disaster protocol.  See also Social Security Act 1135(b)(7);  Frequently Asked Question: HIPAA waiver during a national or public health emergency; OCR Bulletin: HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations (November 2014).


Oklahoma Nursing Home Settles HHS HIV Discrimination Charges

September 8, 2017

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

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

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

Under the Resolution Agreement, Heritage Hills agrees to:

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes more than 20 years of experience advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disability and other civil rights discrimination law compliance and risk management.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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