Biden-Harris Administration to Expand Vaccination Requirements for Health Care and Many Other Employers

September 9, 2021

All Medicare and Medicaid certified health care facilities, and a broad range of other employers must prepare to meet impending new federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates announced by the Biden-Harris Administration today.

According to today’s announcements all healthcare facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid or employing 100 or more employees will be required to ensure all staff are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Biden-Harris Administration says the new health industry COVID-19 vaccine mandates will be implemented through emergency regulations to be issued in October.

According to today’s announcement, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (“CMS”) in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) is developing an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period that will be issued in October that will extend vaccine mandates originally announced last month for all Medicare and Medicaid participating nursing home workers to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings, and home health agencies, among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. See .

The announcement of the vaccine mandates for healthcare workers coincides with the Biden-Harris Administration’s announcement of sweeping new vaccine mandates for all government workers, government contractors and employers employing more than 100 employees.

The two mandates will force most health care facilities to impose mask mandates for all staff in order to meet the requirement all staff be vaccinated.

CMS and CDC say the decision was based on the continued and growing spread of the virus in health care settings, especially in parts of the U.S. with higher incidence of COVID-19. They claim the action will protect patients of the 50,000 providers and over 17 million health care workers in Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities.

According to the CDC, nursing homes with an overall staff vaccination rate of 75% or lower experience higher rates of preventable COVID infection. In CMS’s review of available data, the agency is seeing lower staff vaccination rates among hospital and End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) facilities. To combat this issue, CMS is using its authority to establish vaccine requirements for all providers and suppliers that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Vaccinations have proven to reduce the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 and are effective against the Delta variant.

In it’s announcement of the impending vaccination requirements, CDC urged health care facilities to prepare now to meet the new mandate in October. CMS expects certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities to act in the best interest of patients and staff by complying with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

CDC also urged any health care workers employed in these facilities who are not currently vaccinated are urged to begin the process immediately and facilities to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements.

While legal challenges to the mandate requirements are likely, most facilities that have not already adopted vaccine mandates are expected to adopt these mandates rather than risk losing eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement and other sanctions.

Beyondprogram disqualification and attendant financial pressures, announcement of the new vaccine mandates adds vaccination to the list of safety safeguards that healthcare facilities as employers can expect to be required to enforce as part of the occupational safety rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (”OSHA”).

OSHA already is sanctioning employers for violating COVID-19 related OSHA requirements. For instance, OSHA nailed Lakewood Resource and Referral Center Inc., dba Center for Education Medicine and Dentistry (CHEMED) with heavy fines for allegedly violating applicable COVID-19 safety guidelines in January, 2021.

In a July 23, 2021 citation letter, OSH proposes to fine CHEMED $273,064.00 for willfully violating OSHA by not providing a medical evaluation to determine each employee’s ability to use a N95 respirator, before the employee was fit tested or required to use the respirator in the workplace to protect against SARS-CoV-2 virus while testing suspected COVID-19 individuals.

In addition to the proposed fine, the citation also orders CHEMED to take a series of corrective actions and to post notices in the workplace informing workers of the violation. 

Along with the CHEMED citation, OSH also cited a staffing agency contracted to provide nursing staffing to CHEMED, Homecare Therapies for also failing to conduct medical evaluations and fit tests. It received two violations and a proposed fine of $13,653.

In the face of these potential consequences, most covered health care facilities and other employers impacted by the mandate are likely to implement mandates unless and until these requirements are struct down by the courts or withdrawn.

Assuming the Administration follows appropriate procedures to adopt the rules, most legal commentators do not expect the legal challenges opposing the mandate orders to be successful in the courts particularly after the Supreme Court refused to overturn or hear arguments for overturning a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Klassen v. Trustees of Indiana University that refused to enjoin a vaccine mandate imposed by Indiana University as a condition of student or staff in person participation in classes or other activities.

While most healthcare and other covered businesses are not expected to challenge the rules, compliance us likely to trigger backlash from some unvaccinated workers strongly opposed to becoming vaccinated. Employers may find that some employees will resign their employment or take other tactics to avoid becoming vaccinated. Even those who elect to become vaccinated to retain their employment are likely to express opposition and dissatisfaction that could create liability exposures for the employers if it becomes a basis for retaliation claim.

Employers in Texas and certain other states that have adopted rules restricting or prohibiting vaccine, mask or other mandates also may face challenges based on the state rules.

In light of these and other uncertainties and challenges, Healthcare and Other or Employers generally should seek legal advice and assistance from legal counsel experienced with the relevant health care, labor and employment, privacy and other concerns.

More Information

This article is republished by permission of the author, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  To review the original work, see here.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you to receive future updates by registering here 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. 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. For specific information about the these 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.

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 working as an on demand, special project, consulting, general counsel or other basis with domestic and international business, charitable, community and government organizations of all types, sizes and industries and their leaders on labor and employment and other workforce compliance, performance management, internal controls and governance, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, investigations and audits, change management and restructuring, disaster preparedness and response and other operational, risk management and tactical concerns.

Most widely recognized for her work with health care, life sciences, insurance and data and technology organizations, she also has worked extensively with health plan and insurance, employee benefits, financial, transportation, manufacturing, energy, real estate, accounting and other services, public and private academic and other education, hospitality, charitable, civic and other business, government and community organizations. and their leaders.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising, representing, defending, and training domestic and international public and private business, charitable, community and governmental organizations and their leaders, employers, employee benefit plans, their fiduciaries and service providers, insurers, and others has published and spoken extensively on these concerns. As part of these involvements, she has worked, published and spoken extensively on these and other human resources, employee benefits, compensation, worker classification and other workforce and other services; insurance; health care; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress; and many other performance, risk management, compliance, public policy and regulatory affairs, and other operational concerns. 

A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on these and other legislative, regulatory and other legislative and regulatory design, drafting, interpretation and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and represents organizations on the design, administration and defense of workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline, reengineering, regulatory and operational compliance and other management practices and actions.

Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and provides insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications, public speaking and volunteer service with a diverse range of organizations including as Chair of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Intellectual Property Section Law Practice Management Committee, Vice Chair of the International Section Life Sciences and Health Committee, Past ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group Chair and Council Representative and current Welfare Benefit Committee Co-Chair, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, past Region IV Chair and national Society of Human Resources Management Consultant Forum Board Member,  past Texas Association of Business BACPAC Chair, Regional Chair and Dallas Chapter Chair, 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, past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation and many others.

For more information about these concerns or Ms. Stamer’s work, experience, involvements, other publications, or programs, see www.cynthiastamer.com,  on  Facebook, on LinkedIn or Twitter or e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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©2021 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™


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

December 16, 2019

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

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

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

DADS Breaches & Violations

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

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

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

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

Calculation & Assessment CMPs Totaling $1.6 Million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For More Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The 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.

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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.

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

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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.


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

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©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).


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

April 26, 2017

Remote cardiac monitoring provider CardioNet is paying $2.5 million and implementing a corrective action plan to settle potential charges of noncompliance with the Health Insurance and Portability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) based on the impermissible disclosure of unsecured electronic protected health information (ePHI).

The first OCR HIPAA settlement involving a wireless health services provider, the CardioNet Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan  (Resolution Agreement) announced by OCR on April 24, 2017 clearly illustrates for all covered entities and their business associates of the substantial liability risks of failing to finalize and actually adopt, implement, administer and maintain the necessary HIPAA Privacy and Security policies and procedures required by HIPAA as well as some of the steps OCR expects to fulfill these requirements.

CardioNet Charges & Settlement

As has become increasingly common in recent years, the CardioNet settlement arose from concerns initially brought to OCR’s attention in connection with a HIPAA breach notification report.  On January 10, 2012, OCR received notification from the provider of remote mobile monitoring of and rapid response to patients at risk for cardiac arrhythmias that a workforce member’s laptop with the ePHI of 1,391 individuals was stolen from a parked vehicle outside of the employee’s home. CardioNet subsequently notified OCR of a second breach of ePHI 2,219 individuals, respectively.

Likewise, the HIPAA breaches uncovered by OCR in the course of investigating these CardioNet breaches occur in the operations of many other covered entities.  According to the OCR’s investigation in response to these breach reports revealed a series of continuing compliance concerns, including:

  • CardioNet failed to conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis to assess the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI and failed to plan for and implement security measures sufficient to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities;
  • CardioNet’s policies and procedures implementing the standards of the HIPAA Security Rule were in draft form and had not been implemented;
  • CardioNet was unable to produce any final policies or procedures regarding the implementation of safeguards for ePHI, including those for mobile devices;
  • CardioNet failed to implement policies and procedures that govern the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain electronic protected health information into and out of its facilities, the encryption of such media, and the movement of these items within its facilities until March 2015; and
  • CardioNet failed to safeguard against the impermissible disclosure of protected health information by its employees, thereby permitting access to that information by an unauthorized individual, and failed to take sufficient steps to immediately correct the disclosure.

To resolve these OCR charges, CardioNet agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay $2.5 million to OCR and implement a corrective action plan.  Among other things, the corrective action plan requires CardioNet to complete the following actions to the satisfaction of OCR:

  • Prepare a current, comprehensive and thorough Risk Analysis of security risks and vulnerabilities that incorporates its current facility or facilities and the electronic equipment, data systems, and applications controlled, currently administered or owned by CardioNet, that contain, store, transmit, or receive electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) and update that Risk Analysis annually or more frequently, if appropriate in response to environmental or operational changes affecting the security of ePHI.
  • Assess whether its existing security measures are sufficient to protect its ePHI and revise its Risk Management Plan, Policies and Procedures, and training materials and implement additional security measures, as needed.
  • Develop and implement an organization-wide Risk Management Plan to address and mitigate any security risks and vulnerabilities found in the Risk Analysis as required by the Risk Management Plan.
  • Review and, to the extent necessary, revise, its current Security Rule Policies and Procedures (“Policies and Procedures”) based on the findings of the Risk Analysis and the implementation of the Risk Management Plan to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule.
  • Provide certification to OCR that all laptops, flashdrives, SD cards, and other portable media devices are encrypted, together with a description of the encryption methods used (“Certification”).
  • Review, revise its HIPAA Security training to include a focus on security, encryption, and handling of mobile devices and out-of-office transmissions and other policies and practices require to address the issues identified in the Risk Assessment and otherwise comply with the Risk Management Plan and HIPAA train its workforce on these policies and practices.
  • Investigate all potential violations of its HIPAA policies and procedures and notify OCR in writing within 30 days of any violation.
  • Submit annual reports to OCR, which must be signed by an owner or officer of CardioNet attesting that he or she has reviewed the annual report, has made a reasonable inquiry regarding its content and believes that, upon such inquiry, the information is accurate and truthful.
  • Maintain for inspection and copying, and provide to OCR, upon request, all documents and records relating to compliance with the corrective action plan for six years.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

The CardioNet Resolution Agreement contains numerous lessons for other Covered entities and their business associates, including but not limited to the following.

  • Like many previous resolution agreements announced by OCR, the Resolution Agreement reiterates the responsibility of covered entities and business associates to properly secure their ePHI and that as part of this process, OCR expects all laptop computers and other mobile devices containing or with access to ePHI be properly encrypted and secured.
  • It also reminds covered entities and their business associates to be prepared for, and expect an audit from OCR when OCR receives a report that their organization experienced a large breach of unsecured ePHI.
  • The Resolution Agreement’s highlighting of the draft status of CardioNet’s privacy and security policies also reflects OCR expects covered entities  to actually final policies, procedures and training in place for maintaining compliance with HIPAA.
  • The discussion and requirements in the Corrective Action Plan relating to requirements to conduct comprehensive risk assessments at least annually and in response to other events, and to update policies and procedures in response to findings of these risk assessments also drives home the importance of conducting timely, documented risk analyses of the security of their ePHI, taking prompt action to address known risks and periodically updating the risk assessment and the associated privacy and security policies and procedures in response to the findings of the risk assessment and other changing events.
  • The requirement in the Resolution Agreement of leadership attestation and certification on the required annual report reflects OCR’s expectation that leadership within covered entities and business associates will make HIPAA compliance a priority and will take appropriate action to oversee compliance.
  • Finally, the $2.5 million settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement and its implementation against CardiNet makes clear that OCR remains serious about HIPAA enforcement.

Of course, covered entities and business associates need to keep in mind that that actions and inactions that create HIPAA liability risks also carry many other potential legal and business risks.  For instance, since PHI records and data involved in such breaches usually incorporates Social Security Numbers, credit card or other debt or payment records or other personal consumer information, and other legally sensitive data, covered entities and business associates generally also may face investigation, notification and other responsibilities and liabilities under confidentiality, privacy or data security rules of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act, state identity theft, data security, medical confidentiality, privacy and ethics, insurance, consumer privacy, common law or other state privacy claims and a host of other federal or state laws.  Depending on the nature of the covered entity or its business associates, the breach or other privacy event also may trigger fiduciary liability exposures for health plan fiduciaries in the case of a health plan, professional ethics or licensing investigations or actions against health care providers, insurance companies, administrative service providers or brokers, shareholder or other investor actions, employment or vendor termination or disputes and a host of other indirect legal consequences.

Beyond, and regardless of the technical legal defensibility of its actions under these and other laws, however, the most material and often most intractable consequences of a HIPAA or other data or other privacy breach report or public accusation, investigation, admission also typically are the most inevitable:

  • The intangible, but critical loss of trust and reputation covered entities and business associates inevitably incur among their patients, participants, business partners, investors and the community; and
  • The substantial financial expenses and administrative and operational disruptions of investigating, defending the actions of the organization and implementation of post-event corrective actions following a data or other privacy breach, audit, investigation, or charge.

In light of these risks, covered entities business associates and their management should use the experiences of CardioNet and other covered entities or business associates caught violating HIPAA or other privacy and security standards to reduce their HIPAA and other privacy and data security exposures.   Management of covered entities and their business associates should take steps to ensure that their organizations policies, practices and procedures currently are up-to-date, appropriately administered and monitored, and properly documented.  Management should ensure that their organizations carefully evaluate and strengthen as necessary their current HIPAA risk assessments, policies, practices, record keeping and retention and training in light of these and other reports as they are announced in a well-documented manner.  The focus of these activities should be both to maintain compliance and position their organizations efficiently and effectively to respond to and defend their actions against a data breach, investigation, audit or accusation of a HIPAA or other privacy or security rule violation with a minimum of liability, cost and reputational and operational damages.

As the conduct of these activities generally will involve the collection and analysis of legally sensitive matters, most covered entities and business associates will want to involve legal counsel experienced with these matters and utilize appropriate procedures to be able to use and assert attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary privileges to mitigate risks associated with these processes.  To help plan for and mitigate foreseeable expenses of investigating, responding to or mitigating a known, suspected or asserted breach or other privacy event, most covered entities and business associates also will want to consider the advisability of tightening privacy and data security standards, notification, cooperation and indemnification protections in contracts between covered entities and business associates, acquiring or expanding data breach or other liability coverage, or other options for mitigating the financial costs of responding to a breach notification, investigation or enforcement action.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition 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 “Health Care,” “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, the author of this update is widely known for her 29 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has 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 a core component of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans and insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional associations, medical staffs, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational compliance, risk management and compliance, public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending public and private hospitals and health care systems; physicians, physician organizations and medical staffs; specialty clinics and pharmacies; skilled nursing, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing and management services 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 manage and defend compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing and other operations and risk management concerns. A core focus of this work includes work 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; dealings with JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; investigation and defense of private litigation and other federal and state health care industry investigations and enforcement; insurance or other liability management and allocation; process and product development; managed care, physician and other staffing, business associate and other contracting; evaluation, commenting or seeking modification of regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; 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.

In the course of this work, Ms. Stamer has accumulated extensive experience helping health industry clients manage workforce, medical staff, vendors and suppliers, medical billing, reimbursement, claims and other provider-payer relations, business partners, and their recruitment, performance, discipline, compliance, safety, compensation, benefits, and training, board, medical staff and other governance; compliance and internal controls; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; change management; assess, deter, investigate and address staffing, quality, compliance and other performance; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other data security and breach and other health IT and data; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party reporting, audits, investigations and enforcement; government affairs and public policy; and other compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns.

Author of leading works on HIPAA and other privacy and data security works and the scribe leading the American Bar Association Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, her experience includes extensive compliance, risk management and data breach and other crisis event investigation, response and remediation under HIPAA and other data security, privacy and breach laws.  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.

In connection with this work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers and other plan sponsors, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA, FACTA, trade secret and other information privacy and data security rules, including the establishment, documentation, implementation, audit and enforcement of policies, procedures, systems and safeguards, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.

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.

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.

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, 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 has worked closely with a diverse range of physicians, hospitals and healthcare systems, DME, Pharma, clinics, health care providers, managed care, insurance and other health care payers, quality assurance, credentialing, technical, research, public and private social and community organizations, and other health industry organizations and their management deal with governance; credentialing, patient relations and care; staffing, peer review, human resources and workforce performance management; outsourcing; internal controls and regulatory compliance; billing and reimbursement; physician, employment, vendor, managed care, government and other contracting; business transactions; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; licensure and accreditation; vendor selection and management; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy and other concerns.

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

A 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.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

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.

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


Learn From Children’s New $3.2M+ HIPAA CMP For “Knowing” Violation of HIPAA Security Rules

February 2, 2017

The just-announced $3.2 million Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) that Children’s Medical Center of Dallas (Children’s) recently paid for failing to adequately secure electronic protected health information (ePHI) and correct other HIPAA compliance deficiencies demonstrates the risks healthcare providers, health plans and insurers, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) run by failing to take appropriate, well-documented actions to timely to secure ePHI on systems and mobile devices or comply with other HIPAA Privacy or Security requirements.

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) imposed the $3,217,000.00 Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) under a January 18, 2017 Final Determination based upon findings 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.  OCR originally notified Children’s of its intention to impose the CMP based on findings of widespread violations by Children’s of HIPAA in a September 30, 2016 Notice of Proposed Determination (Proposed Determination) that OCR sent to Children’s President of System Clinical Operations, David Berry.  Although the Proposed Determination included instructions for requesting a hearing on the Proposed Determination, Children’s paid the CMP rather than exercising these hearing rights.

Breach Notice Investigation Reveals Children’s Failed For Years To Secure ePHI on Mobile Devices Despite Repeated Warnings

According to the Proposed Determination, OCR uncovered widespread HIPAA violations by Children’s while investigating the HIPAA compliance of the Dallas-based pediatric health and hospital system in response to two separate notices of large breaches of ePHI that Children’s filed with OCR in response to the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule.   Under the Breach Notification Rule, Covered Entities generally must provide notice of any breach of unsecured ePHI involving more than 500 individuals with OCR, subjects of the breached ePHI and the media within 60 days of receiving notice of the breach.  In contrast, for breaches of unsecured ePHI involving fewer than 500 individuals, Covered Entities generally must notify subjects of the breached ePHI within 60 days, but can delay notification to OCR until filing a consolidated annual report of small breaches of ePHI.

The two breach notifications that triggered the OCR investigation leading to the CMP both involved losses of mobile devices containing ePHI that Children’s filed with OCR.

The first breach report, filed on January 18, 2010, notified OCR of the loss at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on November 19, 2009 of an unencrypted, non-password protected BlackBerry device containing the ePHI of approximately 3,800 individuals.

The second reported breach report filed on July 5, 2013, reported the theft of an unencrypted laptop with the ePHI of 2,462 individuals from its premises sometime between April 4 and April 9, 2013. The OCR investigation found that although Children’s implemented some physical safeguards to the operating room storage area (e.g., badge access was required, and a security camera was present at one of the entrances), it also provided access to the area to staff who were not authorized to access ePHI. Children’s janitorial staff had unrestricted access to the area where the laptop was stored but did not provide encryption to protect the ePHI on the laptop from access by such unauthorized persons.  Children’s internal investigation concluded that the laptop was probably stolen by a member of the janitorial staff.

In the course of investigating these two reported breaches, OCR took note that Children’s previously reported a small breach of unsecured ePHI on an unencrypted mobile device.  In a letter dated August 22, 2011, from Children’s Vice President of Compliance and Internal Audit and Chief Compliance Officer Ron Skillens to OCR Equal Opportunity Specialist Jamie Sorley, Mr. Skillens stated that a Children’s workforce member (an unidentified medical resident) lost an iPod device in December 2010. The iPod had been synched to the resident’s Children’s email account, which resulted in the ePHI of at least 22 individuals being placed on the device. The ePHI on the iPod was not encrypted. The loss of the iPod resulted in the impermissible disclosure of ePHI by the medical resident. OCR concluded the ePHI of 22 individuals was impermissibly disclosed, because the workforce member and agent of Children’s provided access to any unauthorized person who discovered the device.

  • OCR found that the breaches resulted from Children’s violation of the HIPAA Security Rule by failing to encrypt laptops and other mobile devices or and implement other appropriate safeguards for the protection of ePHI on mobile devices;
  • Failing to appropriately document its decision to not implement encryption on mobile devices and any applicable rationale behind a decision to use alternative security measures to encryption; and
  • Failing to implement security measures that were an equivalent alternative to the security protection available from encryption solutions.

The Proposed Determination also reports that the OCR ’s investigation revealed that Children repeatedly over several years knowingly failed to implement and administer proper encryption and other safeguards on laptops and other mobile devices containing ePHI despite actual knowledge of the unaddressed risks to unencrypted ePHI in violation of the HIPAA Security Rule dating back to at least 2007. The Proposed Determination notes, for instance, that:

  • A Security Gap Analysis and Assessment conducted for Children’s December 2006-February 2007 by Strategic Management Systems, Inc. (SMS) (SMS Gap Analysis) identified the absence of risk management as a major finding and recommended that Children’s implement encryption to avoid loss of PHI on stolen or lost laptops.
  • A separate PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis of threats and vulnerabilities to certain ePHI (PwC Analysis) conducted in August, 2008 for Children’s determined that encryption was necessary and appropriate. The PwC Analysis also determined that a mechanism was not in place to protect data on a laptop, workstation, mobile device, or USB thumb drive if the device was lost or stolen and identified the loss of data at rest through unsecured mobile devices as being “high” risk. PwC identified data encryption as a “high priority” item and recommended that Children’s implement data encryption in the fourth quarter of 2008.
  • Furthermore, in September 2012, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued the findings from its audit of Children’s that focused on information technology controls for devices such as smartphones and USB drives. Among other things, the report, entitled “Universal Serial Bus Control Weaknesses Found at Children’s Medical Center,” found that Children’s had insufficient controls to prevent data from being written onto unauthorized and unencrypted USB devices and that “without sufficient USB controls, there was a risk that ePHI could have been written onto an unauthorized/unencrypted USB device and taken out of the hospital, resulting in a data breach.” A copy of this report was provided to Mr. Skillens.
  • Despite the prior breach notifications and warnings from the SMS Gap Analysis, the PwC Analysis and the OIG audit report, Children’s failed to take the necessary steps to encrypt and otherwise safeguard its ePHI on mobile devices.  Children’s still had not implemented encryption on all devices as of April 9, 2013 even though appropriate commercial encryption products were available to achieve encryption of laptops, workstations, mobile devices, and USB thumb drives in use by Children’s staff by, at least, the time of the PwC Analysis in 2008.  Furthermore, while leaving these deficiencies unresolved, the Proposed Determination notes that Children’s issued unencrypted BlackBerry devices to nurses beginning in 2007 and allowed its workforce members to continue using unencrypted laptops and other mobile devices until at least April 9, 2013 despite the findings of SMS and PwC and Children’s actual knowledge about the risk of maintaining unencrypted ePHI on its devices.

Based on this evidence, OCR concluded that Children’s had “actual knowledge” of the unaddressed threats to ePHI as early as March 2007 and at least one year prior to the reported security incidents. Furthermore, OCR also found that Children’s additionally violated HIPAA by failing to implement sufficient policies and procedures governing the receipt and removal of hardware and electronic media that contain ePHI into and out of its facility, and the movement of these items within the facility prior to at least November 9, 2012.  Prior to November 2012, Children’s information technology (IT) assets were inventoried and managed separately from the inventory of devices used within its Biomedical Department. Children’s IT asset policies did not apply to devices that accessed or stored ePHI that were managed by the Biomedical Department. Consequently, Children’s was unable to identify all devices to which the device and media control policy should apply prior to completing a full-scope inventory to identify all information systems containing ePHI in November 9, 2012. As Children’s did not conduct a complete inventory to identify all devices to which its IT asset policies apply to ensure that all devices were covered by its device and media control policies, the Proposed Determination concluded Children’s was out of compliance with the Security Rule at 45 C.P.R. § 164.310(d)(l).

After OCR’s investigation indicated widespread Privacy and Security Rule noncompliance by Children’s, the Proposed Determination states that OCR attempted to negotiate a resolution with Children’s through its informal resolution agreement process from approximately November 6, 2015, to August 30, 2016.  When these efforts failed, OCR issued a May 10,2016 Letter of Opportunity that formally informed Children’s that since OCR had been unable to resolve its findings that Children’s violated the Privacy and Security Rules by informal means, OCR was informing Children’s of the preliminary indications of non-compliance and providing Children’s with an opportunity to submit written evidence of mitigating factors under 45 C.F.R. § 160.408 or affirmative defenses under 45 C.F.R. § 160.410 for OCR’s consideration in making a determination of a CMP pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.404. The letter stated that Children’s could also submit written evidence to support a waiver of a CMP for the indicated areas of non-compliance. Each of Children’s indicated acts of noncompliance and the potential CMP for them were described in the letter. The letter was delivered to Children’s and received by Children’s agent on May 12, 2016.

Children’s responded to OCR’s letter on or about June 9, 2016.  The Proposed Determination states that OCR determined that the information and arguments submitted by Children’s in its June 9, 2016 letter did not support an affirmative defense pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.410 or a waiver of the CMP pursuant to 45 C.F.R. § 160.412.  Accordingly, OCR notified Children’s in its September 30, 2016 Proposed Determination of OCR’s intent to implement the $3,217,000.00 CMP and procedures for appealing this planned CMP assessment. When Children’s did not file an appeal, OCR issued the Final Determination assessing the CMP.  OCR reports that Children now has paid the $3,217,000.00 CMP.

Important Lessons For Other Covered Entities & Their Leaders

The Children’s CMP and underlying circumstances provide many key lessons for other Covered Entities.  Obviously, the Final Decision drives home the importance of:

  • Proper encryption and other security and access controls of devices and systems containing ePHI; and
  • Proper documentation of risk assessments, audits, breach investigations and other events, compliance analysis and conclusions taken in response, and corrective actions selected and implemented in response to these events.

Beyond the importance of documented compliance with encryption and other requirements, the Children’s CMP and its associated Proposed Determination and Final Determinations also illustrate the importance of proper behavior in response to a known or suspected breach.  The Proposed Determination and Final Determination make clear that beyond the breaches uncovered in the course of the investigation, OCR’s decision to implement the CMP was influenced by, among other things:

  • The recurrent disregard and failure by Children to act to address the HIPAA security violations over a period of years despite both repeated notifications of its noncompliance and actual breaches resulting from these compliance deficiencies; and
  • The failure of Children’s to cooperate with OCR to reach a voluntary resolution agreement which might have allowed Children to resolve its liability for the breaches OCR found by paying a potentially smaller settlement payment and implementing corrective actions to OCR’s satisfaction.

About The Author

Recognized by LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as a “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%/ the highest) and “Top Rated Lawyer,” with special recognition  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, the author of this uProposed Determinationate is widely known for her 28 plus years’ of work in health care, health benefit, health policy and regulatory affairs and other health industry concerns as a practicing attorney and management consultant, thought leader, author, public policy advocate and lecturer.

Throughout her adult life and nearly 30-year legal career, Ms. Stamer’s legal, management and governmental affairs work has 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 helps these and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, 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, 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, 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 Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer’s includes nearly 30 years’ of work with a diverse range of health industry clients on an extensive range of matters.

Ms. Stamer has worked closely with health industry, managed care and insurance and other businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of staffing, human resources and workforce performance management, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. She supports her clients both on a real-time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

As a core component of her work,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her career with health care providers, health plans and insurers, managed care organizations, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, management services organizations, professional associations, medical staffs, accreditation agencies, auditors, technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational compliance, risk management and compliance, public policies and regulatory affairs, contracting, payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations and matters including extensive involvement advising, representing and defending public and private hospitals and health care systems; physicians, physician organizations and medical staffs; specialty clinics and pharmacies; skilled nursing, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing and management services 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.

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 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 concerns including policy design, drafting, administration and training; business associate and other contracting; risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation; investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected breaches, violations or other incidents; and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, 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 enforcement, and a host of other related concerns. Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others. In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, as well as HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy and governmental and regulatory affairs experience, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for regulatory and policy work, advocacy and outreach on healthcare, education, aging, disability, savings and retirement, workforce, ethics, and other policies.  Throughout her adult life and career, Ms. Stamer has provided thought leadership; policy and program design, statutory and regulatory development design and analysis; drafted legislation, proposed regulations and other guidance, position statements and briefs, comments and other critical policy documents; advised, assisted and represented health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, professional. and trade associations, community and government leaders and others on health care, health, pension and retirement, workers’ compensation, Social Security and other benefit, insurance and financial services, tax, workforce, aging and disability, immigration, privacy and data security and a host of other international and domestic federal, state and local public policy and regulatory reforms through her involvement and participation in numerous client engagements, founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: the Coalition on Patient Empowerment, adviser to the National Physicians Congress for Healthcare Policy, leadership involvement with the US-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business, the ABA JCEB, Health Law, RPTE, Tax, Labor, TIPS, International Life Sciences, and other Sections and Committees, SHRM Governmental Affairs Committee and a host of other  involvements and activities.

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. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and representing clients on privacy and data security concerns and other health industry matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as a scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR, the Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit, and an editorial advisory board member, author, program chair or steering committee member, and faculties for a multitude of other programs and publications regarding privacy, data security, technology and other compliance, risk management and operational concerns in the health care, health and other insurance, employee benefits and human resources, retail, financial services and other arenas.

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 HIPAA and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment, 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; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, 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, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Council, 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.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposium and chair, faculty member and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, Insurance Thought Leadership and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations.

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.™

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All Covered Entities Should Learn Lessons From Mississippi Medical Center’s $2.75 Million HIPAA Resolution Agreement

July 27, 2016

Health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses (covered entities) and their business associates should reevaluate the adequacy of their practices and procedures for the protection of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices in light of the $2.75 million penalty and other schooling the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) just gave the University of Mississippi (UM) Medical Center (UMMC) documented in a July 7, 2016 Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (Resolution Agreement) resolving OCR charges of multiple violations of the privacy, security and breach notification requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) OCR says it uncovered while investigating UMMC’s breach notification report to OCR of the loss a laptop containing 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

UMMC Report of Missing Laptop Leads To Multiple Charges & Resolution Agreement

Mississippi’s sole public academic health science center, UMMC provides patient care in four specialized hospitals on the Jackson campus and at clinics throughout Jackson and the State as well as conducts medical education and research functions.  Its designated health care component, UMMC, includes University Hospital, the site of the breach in this case, located on the main UMMC campus in Jackson.

The settlement agreed to by UMMC stems from charges resulting from an OCR investigation of UMMC triggered by a breach of unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) affecting approximately 10,000 individuals.

Like many prior resolution agreements previously announced by OCR, UMMC’s HIPAA woes came to light after a laptop went missing.  OCR learned of the breach and opened its investigation in response to a March 21, 2013 notification UMMC filed with OCR.  UMMC made the breach notification to comply with HIPAA’s Breach Notification Rule requirement that health care providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) timely notify affected individuals, OCR and others of breaches of unsecured ePHI.

UMMC’s breach notification disclosed that UMMC’s privacy officer had discovered a password-protected laptop containing ePHI of thousands of UMMC patients missing from UMMC’s Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU). UMMC additionally reported that based on its investigation, UMMC believed that the missing laptop likely was stolen by a visitor to the MICU who had inquired about borrowing one of the laptops.

After discovering the loss, UMMC disclosed the breach to local media and on its website and notified OCR of the breach but apparently did not individually notify the subjects of the missing ePHI.

In keeping with its announced policy of investigating all breach reports impacting 500 or more individuals, OCR opened an investigation into UMMC’s breach report.  Based on this investigation, OCR concluded that while the laptop apparently was password protected, UMMC had breached the Security Rules because ePHI stored on a UMMC network drive was vulnerable to unauthorized access via UMMC’s wireless network because users could use a generic username and password to access an active directory containing 67,000 files including 328 files containing the ePHI of an estimated 10,000 patients.

While OCR’s investigation confirmed that UMMC had implemented policies and procedures pursuant to the HIPAA Rules, OCR’s additionally found that the theft of the laptop that prompted UMMC’s breach report resulted from broad deficiencies in UMMC’s implementation and administration of these policies and its practices.

Based on these findings, OCR charged UMMC with the following HIPAA violations:

  • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, through the settlement date, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.308(a)(1)(i) by failing to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations, including conducting an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of the ePHI it holds, and implementing security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level;
  • From January 19, 2013, until March 1, 2014, UMMC violated 45 C.F.R. §164.310(c) by failing to implement physical safeguards for all workstations that access ePHI to restrict access to authorized users;
  • From the compliance date of the Security Rule, April 20, 2005, to March 14, 2013, UM violated 45 C.F.R. § 164.312 (a)(2)(i) by failing to assign a unique user name and/or number for identifying and tracking user identity in information systems containing ePHI including, for example, allowing workforce members to access ePHI on a shared department network drive through a generic account, preventing UMMC from tracking which specific users were accessing ePHI; and
  • While UMMC provided notification on UMMC’s website and in local media outlets following the discovery of the reported breach of unsecured ePHI,, UMMC violated the Breach Notification Rule by failing to notify each individual whose unsecured ePHI was reasonably believed to have been accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of the breach.

Finally, OCR determined that UMMC was aware of risks and vulnerabilities to its systems as far back as April 2005, yet took no significant risk management activity until after the breach, due largely to organizational deficiencies and insufficient institutional oversight.

To resolve these charges, UMMC agrees in the Resolution Agreement to pay OCR $2.75 million and implement a comprehensive compliance plan which among other things, requires UMMC to conduct a sweeping review and correct its HIPAA privacy, security and breach notification policies and their implementation and administration to comply with HIPAA as well as implement and administer detailed management and OCR oversight and reporting processes over the implementation and administration of these procedures.

Lessons For Other Covered Entities From UMMC Resolution Agreement

The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement contains several key lessons for other covered entities and their business associates, which OCR’s July 21, 2016 announcement warns other covered entities and business associates to heed..

Certainly, the $2.75 million settlement amount reaffirms that covered entities and their business associates risk substantial liability for failing to properly assess and protect the security of ePHI in accordance with HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rule.

Furthermore, the charges and Resolution Agreement also adds a new twist to OCR’s now well established to stiffly sanction covered entities and their business associates that fail appropriately assess and address risks to the security of their ePHI on or accessible from laptops or other mobile devices. Through previous resolution agreements and guidance, OCR has made clear that it interprets the HIPAA Security Rule as generally requiring that covered entities and business associates encrypt all laptops or other mobile devices containing ePHI.  The UMMC charges and Resolution Agreement makes clear that the responsibility to protect ePHI on or accessible through laptops or other mobile devices does not end with encryption.  Rather, the Resolution Agreement makes clear that covered entities and their business associates also must take appropriate, well-documented steps to monitor, assess, identify, and timely and effectively address other potential risks to the security of the ePHI.

The Resolution Agreement makes clear that these additional responsibilities include, but are not necessarily limited to ensuring that proper safeguards are implemented and enforced to secure access not only to the ePHI contained on the laptop as well as other data bases and systems containing ePHI accessible through the laptop.  In this respect, the Resolution Agreement particularly highlights the need for covered entities and their business associates to assess risks and take appropriate steps:

  • To safeguard the physical security of laptops and other mobile devices;
  • To prevent the use of generic or other unsecure passwords to access ePHI on or accessible through the laptop or other mobile device;
  • To establish and administer appropriate, well-documented processes for assessing and addressing the adequacy of safeguards for and potential threats to the security of ePHI both initially and on an ongoing basis in a manner that meaningfully assesses the actual risks and effectiveness of safeguards against these risks, including those resulting from nonadherence to required safeguards and practices such as the sharing of passwords, changing systems or circumstances, and other developments that potentially threaten the adequacy of ePHI security.

Furthermore, OCR’s July 21, 2016 press release concerning the Resolution Agreement also sends a clear message to all covered entities and business associates that OCR views HIPAA as requiring organizations not only to adopt written policies and procedures that comply on paper or in theory with HIPAA, but also to take steps to monitor and maintain the effectiveness of their safeguard by continuously assessing and monitoring their HIPAA risks and acting as necessary to ensure that required safeguards of protected health information and ePHI and other HIPAA requirements are effectively implemented and administered in operation as well as form.

In OCR’s Press Release announcing the Resolution Agreement, OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels. Stated, “We at OCR remain particularly concerned with unaddressed risks that may lead to impermissible access to ePHI.”  She also warned “In addition to identifying risks and vulnerabilities to their ePHI, entities must also implement reasonable and appropriate safeguards to address them within an appropriate time frame.”

Additionally, the Resolution Agreement also illustrates need for covered entities and business associates to timely provide all individual and other notifications and otherwise fully comply with all requirements of the Breach Notification Rules.

Since the risk of a breach is ever-present even for Covered Entities and business associates exercising the highest degree of care to safeguard PHI and maintain compliance with HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates are wise to take steps to position themselves to be able to demonstrate the adequacy of both their written policies and procedures and the effectiveness of their implementation and enforcement including ongoing documented practices for assessing, monitoring and addressing security risks and other compliance concerns as well as prepare to comply with the breach notification requirements in the event they experience their own breach of unsecured ePHI.

About The Author

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, current American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, former scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and JCEB Council Representative, former Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section,  the former Board President and Treasurer of the Richardson Development Center for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, and past  Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is AV-Preeminent (the highest) rated attorney repeatedly recognized for her nearly 30 years of experience and knowledge representing and advising healthcare, health plan and other health industry and others on these and other regulatory, workforce, risk management, technology, public policy and operations matters as a Martindale-Hubble as a “LEGAL LEADER™” and “Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law, Labor and Employment Law, and Business & Commercial Law and among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” by D Magazine.

Ms. Stamer’s health industry experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical  staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.

You can get more information about her health industry experience here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

 

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

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North Memorial Hit With $3.9M HIPAA Fine For HIPAA Violations

March 25, 2016

Just one day after the announcement of a $1,555,000 settlement with North Memorial Health Care of Minnesota under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced March 17, 2016 that Feinstein Institute for Medical Research has agreed to pay  $3.9 million and will undertake a substantial corrective action plan to settle charges of HIPAA violations and  bring its operations into compliance.  The two settlements drive home again the substantial liability that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates risk for violating HIPAA. Register for March 30, 2016 Solutions Law Press, Inc. briefing to learn the latest about this and other new regulatory and enforcement guidance impacting the HIPAA compliance obligations and risks of health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates.  3/30 Webex Shares Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments.

Feinstein Settlement

Feinstein is a biomedical research institute that is organized as a New York not-for-profit corporation and is sponsored by Northwell Health, Inc., formerly known as North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, a large health system headquartered in Manhasset, New York that is comprised of twenty one hospitals and over 450 patient facilities and physician practices.

OCR’s investigation began after Feinstein filed a breach report indicating that on September 2, 2012, a laptop computer containing the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 13,000 patients and research participants was stolen from an employee’s car.  The ePHI stored in the laptop included the names of research participants, dates of birth, addresses, social security numbers, diagnoses, laboratory results, medications, and medical information relating to potential participation in a research study.

OCR’s investigation discovered that Feinstein’s security management process was limited in scope, incomplete, and insufficient to address potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI held by the entity.  Further, Feinstein lacked policies and procedures for authorizing access to ePHI by its workforce members, failed to implement safeguards to restrict access to unauthorized users, and lacked policies and procedures to govern the receipt and removal of laptops that contained ePHI into and out of its facilities.  For electronic equipment procured outside of Feinstein’s standard acquisition process, Feinstein failed to implement proper mechanisms for safeguarding ePHI as required by the Security Rule.

“Research institutions subject to HIPAA must be held to the same compliance standards as all other HIPAA-covered entities,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels.  “For individuals to trust in the research process and for patients to trust in those institutions, they must have some assurance that their information is kept private and secure.”

The resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found here.

The Feinstein settlement announcement follows yesterday’s announcement of a $1.5 million plus settlement with North Memorial to resolve HIPAA charges that it failed to implement a business associate agreement with a major contractor and failed to institute an organization-wide risk analysis to address the risks and vulnerabilities to its patient information. North Memorial is a comprehensive, not-for-profit health care system in Minnesota that serves the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.  The settlement highlights the importance for healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates to comply with HIPAA’s business associate agreement and other HIPAA organizational, risk assessment, privacy and security, and other requirements.

OCR’s announcement emphasizes the importance of meeting these requirements.  “Two major cornerstones of the HIPAA Rules were overlooked by this entity,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). “Organizations must have in place compliant business associate agreements as well as an accurate and thorough risk analysis that addresses their enterprise-wide IT infrastructure.”

The settlement comes from charges filed after OCR initiated its investigation of North Memorial following receipt of a breach report on September 27, 2011, which indicated that an unencrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from a business associate’s workforce member’s locked vehicle, impacting the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 9,497 individuals.

OCR’s investigation indicated that North Memorial failed to have in place a business associate agreement, as required under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, so that its business associate could perform certain payment and health care operations activities on its behalf. North Memorial gave its business associate, Accretive, access to North Memorial’s hospital database, which stored the ePHI of 289,904 patients. Accretive also received access to non-electronic protected health information as it performed services on-site at North Memorial.

The investigation further determined that North Memorial failed to complete a risk analysis to address all of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the ePHI that it maintained, accessed, or transmitted across its entire IT infrastructure — including but not limited to all applications, software, databases, servers, workstations, mobile devices and electronic media, network administration and security devices, and associated business processes.

In addition to the $1,550,000 payment, North Memorial is required to develop an organization-wide risk analysis and risk management plan, as required under the Security Rule. North Memorial will also train appropriate workforce members on all policies and procedures newly developed or revised pursuant to this corrective action plan.

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be found here.

Settlement Latest Reminder To Manage HIPAA Risks

Following up on OCR’s imposition of its second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) and the latest in an ever-growing list of settlements by Covered Entities under HIPAA, the North Memorial settlement is another example of the substantial liability that Covered Entities face for violating HIPAA.  To avoid these liabilities, Covered Entities must constantly be diligent to comply with the latest guidance of OCR concerning their obligations under HIPAA.  As OCR continues to issue additional guidance as well as supplement this guidance through information shared in settlement agreements like the North Memorial settlement, even if Covered Entities reviewed their practices in the last 12-months, most will want to update this review in response to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, including new guidance on obligations to provide plan members or other subjects of protected health information with access to or copies of their records and other guidance, as well as the ever expanding list of enforcement actions by OCR.

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) amended HIPAA, Covered Entities face growing responsibilities and liability for maintaining the security of ePHI. In response to HITECH, OCR continues to use a carrot and stick approach to encouraging and enforcing compliance. As demonstrated by OCR’s imposition of the second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of $239,000 against Lincare and the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements OCR announces with other Covered Entities, OCR continues to step up enforcement against Covered Entities that breach the Privacy and Security Rules. See OCR’s 2nd-Ever HIPAA CMP Nails Lincare For $239,000.

On the other hand, OCR also continues to encourage voluntary compliance by Covered Entities by sharing guidance and tools to aid Covered Entities to understand fulfill their HIPAA responsibilities such as the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016.The crosswalk that maps the HIPAA Security Rule to the standards of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (the Cybersecurity Framework) as well as mappings to certain other commonly used security frameworks.

While stating that the HIPAA Security Rule does not require use of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, OCR says it hopes the Crosswalk will provide “a helpful roadmap” for HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates to understand the overlap between the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the HIPAA Security Rule, and other security frameworks that can help Covered Entities safeguard health data in a time of increasing risks and help them to identify potential gaps in their programs. At the same time, OCR’s announcement of its release of the Crosswalk also cautions users that “use of the Framework does not guarantee HIPAA compliance.” Rather, OCR says “the crosswalk provides an informative tool for entities to use to help them more comprehensively manage security risks in their environments.

With a USA Today report attributing more than 40 percent of data breaches to the healthcare industry over the last three years 91 percent of all health organizations having reporting breaches over the last two years, OCR has made clear that it intends to zealously investigate and enforce the Security Rules against Covered Entities that violate the Security Rules against Covered Entities that fail to take suitable steps to safeguard the security of PHI as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. To meet these requirements, the HIPAA Security Rule requires that Covered Entities conduct and be prepared to product documentation of their audit and other efforts to comply with the Security Rule Most Covered Entities will want to consider including an assessment of the adequacy of their existing practices under the Crosswalk and other requirements disclosed by OCR in these assessments to help position the Covered Entity to defend or mitigate HIPAA CMP and other liabilities in the event of a HIPAA breach or audit.

Latest Guidance Clarifies Patient Rights To Access PHI & Allowable Charges

In addition to maintaining adequate security, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to provide individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from their providers, hospitals, and health insurance plans in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. In response to recurrent difficulties experienced by individuals in exercising these rights, OCR recently published supplemental guidance to clarify and promote better understanding and compliance with these rules by Covered Entities.

OCR started this process in January, 2015 by releasing a comprehensive fact sheet (Access fact sheet) and the first in a series of topical frequently asked questions (FAQs) addressing patients’ right to access their medical records, which set forth requirements providers must follow in sharing medical records with patients, including that they must do so in a timely manner and in a format that works for the patient.

Earlier this month, OCR followed up by publishing on March 1, 2016 a second set of FAQs addresses additional issues, including the fees individuals may be charged for copies of their health information and the right of individuals to have their health information sent directly to a third party if they so choose.

Covered entities and their business associates should move quickly to review and update their business associate agreements and other  practices to comply with this new guidance as well as watch for further guidance and enforcement about these practices from OCR.

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

OCR’s new guidance on access to PHI follows a host of other regulatory and enforcement activities. While the particulars of each of these new actions and guidance vary, all send a very clear message: OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates to comply with HIPAA and is offering tools and other guidance to aid them in that process.. In the event of a breach or audit, Covered Entities and their business associates need to be prepared to demonstrate their efforts to comply. Those that cannot show adequate compliance efforts should be prepared for potentially substantial CMP or Resolution Agreement payments and other sanctions.

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites to catch up on the latest guidance on the Covered Entities’ responsibility under HIPAA to provide access to patients to PHI by registering here to participate in the “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” Webex briefing by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer that Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ will host beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. Get additional information or register here.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her extensive work and pragmatic thought leadership, experience, publications and training on HIPAA and other privacy, medical records and data and other health care and health plan concerns.

Recognized as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” an “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits 2015 by D Magazine; Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years of extensive proven, pragmatic knowledge and experience representing and advising health industry clients and others on operational, regulatory and other compliance, risk management, product and process development, public policy and other key concerns.

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with 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 concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; 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.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on HIPAA and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, 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; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, 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, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, 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.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clientson the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here.  ©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


North Memorial Health Care Pays $1.5M Plus HIPAA Settlement For Business Associate Agreement Deficiencies

March 16, 2016

North Memorial Health Care of Minnesota has agreed to pay $1,550,000 to settle charges that it potentially violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules by failing to implement a business associate agreement with a major contractor and failing to institute an organization-wide risk analysis to address the risks and vulnerabilities to its patient information. North Memorial is a comprehensive, not-for-profit health care system in Minnesota that serves the Twin Cities and surrounding communities.  The settlement highlights the importance for healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and their business associates to comply with HIPAA’s business associate agreement and other HIPAA organizational, risk assessment, privacy and security, and other requirements.

OCR’s announcement emphasizes the importance of meeting these requirements.  “Two major cornerstones of the HIPAA Rules were overlooked by this entity,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR). “Organizations must have in place compliant business associate agreements as well as an accurate and thorough risk analysis that addresses their enterprise-wide IT infrastructure.”

The settlement comes from charges filed after OCR initiated its investigation of North Memorial following receipt of a breach report on September 27, 2011, which indicated that an unencrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from a business associate’s workforce member’s locked vehicle, impacting the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 9,497 individuals.

OCR’s investigation indicated that North Memorial failed to have in place a business associate agreement, as required under the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, so that its business associate could perform certain payment and health care operations activities on its behalf. North Memorial gave its business associate, Accretive, access to North Memorial’s hospital database, which stored the ePHI of 289,904 patients. Accretive also received access to non-electronic protected health information as it performed services on-site at North Memorial.

The investigation further determined that North Memorial failed to complete a risk analysis to address all of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the ePHI that it maintained, accessed, or transmitted across its entire IT infrastructure — including but not limited to all applications, software, databases, servers, workstations, mobile devices and electronic media, network administration and security devices, and associated business processes.

In addition to the $1,550,000 payment, North Memorial is required to develop an organization-wide risk analysis and risk management plan, as required under the Security Rule. North Memorial will also train appropriate workforce members on all policies and procedures newly developed or revised pursuant to this corrective action plan.

The Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan can be found on the HHS website at: http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/compliance-enforcement/agreements/north-memorial-health-care/index.html.

Settlement Latest Reminder To Manage HIPAA Risks

Following up on OCR’s imposition of its second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) and the latest in an ever-growing list of settlements by Covered Entities under HIPAA, the North Memorial settlement is another example of the substantial liability that Covered Entities face for violating HIPAA.  To avoid these liabilities, Covered Entities must constantly be diligent to comply with the latest guidance of OCR concerning their obligations under HIPAA.  As OCR continues to issue additional guidance as well as supplement this guidance through information shared in settlement agreements like the North Memorial settlement, even if Covered Entities reviewed their practices in the last 12-months, most will want to update this review in response to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, including new guidance on obligations to provide plan members or other subjects of protected health information with access to or copies of their records and other guidance, as well as the ever expanding list of enforcement actions by OCR.

Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) amended HIPAA, Covered Entities face growing responsibilities and liability for maintaining the security of ePHI. In response to HITECH, OCR continues to use a carrot and stick approach to encouraging and enforcing compliance. As demonstrated by OCR’s imposition of the second-ever HIPAA Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) of $239,000 against Lincare and the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements OCR announces with other Covered Entities, OCR continues to step up enforcement against Covered Entities that breach the Privacy and Security Rules. See OCR’s 2nd-Ever HIPAA CMP Nails Lincare For $239,000.

On the other hand, OCR also continues to encourage voluntary compliance by Covered Entities by sharing guidance and tools to aid Covered Entities to understand fulfill their HIPAA responsibilities such as the HIPAA Security Rule Crosswalk to NIST Cybersecurity Framework (Crosswalk) unveiled by OCR on February 24, 2016.The crosswalk that maps the HIPAA Security Rule to the standards of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (the Cybersecurity Framework) as well as mappings to certain other commonly used security frameworks.

While stating that the HIPAA Security Rule does not require use of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, OCR says it hopes the Crosswalk will provide “a helpful roadmap” for HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates to understand the overlap between the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the HIPAA Security Rule, and other security frameworks that can help Covered Entities safeguard health data in a time of increasing risks and help them to identify potential gaps in their programs. At the same time, OCR’s announcement of its release of the Crosswalk also cautions users that “use of the Framework does not guarantee HIPAA compliance.” Rather, OCR says “the crosswalk provides an informative tool for entities to use to help them more comprehensively manage security risks in their environments.

With a USA Today report attributing more than 40 percent of data breaches to the healthcare industry over the last three years 91 percent of all health organizations having reporting breaches over the last two years, OCR has made clear that it intends to zealously investigate and enforce the Security Rules against Covered Entities that violate the Security Rules against Covered Entities that fail to take suitable steps to safeguard the security of PHI as required by the HIPAA Security Rule. To meet these requirements, the HIPAA Security Rule requires that Covered Entities conduct and be prepared to product documentation of their audit and other efforts to comply with the Security Rule Most Covered Entities will want to consider including an assessment of the adequacy of their existing practices under the Crosswalk and other requirements disclosed by OCR in these assessments to help position the Covered Entity to defend or mitigate HIPAA CMP and other liabilities in the event of a HIPAA breach or audit.

Latest Guidance Clarifies Patient Rights To Access PHI & Allowable Charges

In addition to maintaining adequate security, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to provide individuals with the right to access and receive a copy of their health information from their providers, hospitals, and health insurance plans in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule. In response to recurrent difficulties experienced by individuals in exercising these rights, OCR recently published supplemental guidance to clarify and promote better understanding and compliance with these rules by Covered Entities.

OCR started this process in January, 2015 by releasing a comprehensive fact sheet (Access fact sheet) and the first in a series of topical frequently asked questions (FAQs) addressing patients’ right to access their medical records, which set forth requirements providers must follow in sharing medical records with patients, including that they must do so in a timely manner and in a format that works for the patient.

Earlier this month, OCR followed up by publishing on March 1, 2016 a second set of FAQs addresses additional issues, including the fees individuals may be charged for copies of their health information and the right of individuals to have their health information sent directly to a third party if they so choose.

Covered entities and their business associates should move quickly to review and update their business associate agreements and other  practices to comply with this new guidance as well as watch for further guidance and enforcement about these practices from OCR.

Other Key HIPAA Regulatory & Enforcement Changes Raise Responsibilities & Risks

OCR’s new guidance on access to PHI follows a host of other regulatory and enforcement activities. While the particulars of each of these new actions and guidance vary, all send a very clear message: OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates to comply with HIPAA and is offering tools and other guidance to aid them in that process.. In the event of a breach or audit, Covered Entities and their business associates need to be prepared to demonstrate their efforts to comply. Those that cannot show adequate compliance efforts should be prepared for potentially substantial CMP or Resolution Agreement payments and other sanctions.

Register For 3/30 Webex Briefing

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ invites to catch up on the latest guidance on the Covered Entities’ responsibility under HIPAA to provide access to patients to PHI by registering here to participate in the “HIPAA Update: The Latest On Security, Patient Access & Other HIPAA Developments” Webex briefing by attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer that Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ will host beginning at Noon Central Time on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. Get additional information or register here.

About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her extensive work and pragmatic thought leadership, experience, publications and training on HIPAA and other privacy, medical records and data and other health care and health plan concerns.

Recognized as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” an “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits 2015 by D Magazine; Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years of extensive proven, pragmatic knowledge and experience representing and advising health industry clients and others on operational, regulatory and other compliance, risk management, product and process development, public policy and other key concerns.

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with 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 concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; 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.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on HIPAA and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, 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; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, 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, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, 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.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clientson the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


New CDC Guidance on Opioid Prescribing

March 16, 2016

Responding to growing concern about widespread over prescription opioids, the  Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just released a new guidance and other tools the help guide physicians and other prescribers to determine when and how to prescribe opioids to patients.

The lengthy new guidance and support of tools for clinicians for use and prescribing of opioids for their patients available at http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/resources.html include:

  • Detailed new guidelines
  • “Clinical Tools,” which essentially consist of digested summaries of the detailed guidance and a quick reference checklists; and
  • “Factsheets” for patients.

As irregularities and other improprieties in the prescription and management of painkillers and other controlled substances are a leading basis of serious discipline of physicians and other clinicians, physicians and other clinicians, clinics and hospitals, pharmacies in pharmacists and other healthcare providers involved in prescribing or supervising patients using or contemplating the use of opioids will want to review and incorporate these guidelines into their practices as soon as possible.

Health plan and other pay yours and the pharmacy benefit manager’s responsible for overseeing and evaluating prescriptions also likely will benefit from reviewing these materials and incorporating them into their practices as soon as possible.  Beyond the clinical use of these materials both health plans and healthcare providers likely will want to incorporate or use the fact sheets as communication tools for patients and their families to help educate patients about the  proper use, misuse, risks and other relevant information about opioid prescriptions.

 About The Author

Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely recognized for her extensive work and pragmatic thought leadership, experience, publications and training on HIPAA and other privacy, medical records and data and other health care and health plan concerns.

Recognized as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in both Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law, a “Texas Top Lawyer,” an “AV-Preeminent” and “Top Rated Lawyer” by Martindale-Hubble and as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” in employee benefits 2015 by D Magazine; Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years of extensive proven, pragmatic knowledge and experience representing and advising health industry clients and others on operational, regulatory and other compliance, risk management, product and process development, public policy and other key concerns.

As a core component of her work as the Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, PC, the Co-Managing Member of Stamer Chadwick Soefje PLLC, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively throughout her nearly 30 year career with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, their technology and other vendors and service providers, and others on legal and operational risk management and compliance with 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 concerns; prevention, investigation, response, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected data or privacy breaches or other incidents; defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies; reporting and redressing known or suspected breaches or other violations; business associate and other contracting; 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.

Beyond her extensive involvement advising and defending clients on these matters, Ms. Stamer also has served for several years as the scrivener for the ABA JCEB’s meeting with OCR for many years. She returns as Chair of the Southern California ISSA Health Care Privacy & Security Summit for the third year in 2016, as well as speaks and serves on the steering committee of a multitude of other programs.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares shared her thought leadership, experience and advocacy on HIPAA and other concerns by her service in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organization including her involvement as the Vice Chair of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Association, Executive Director of the Coalition on Responsible Health Policy and its PROJECT COPE; Coalition on Patient Empowerment, 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; former Board Compliance Chair and Board member of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, 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, immediate past RPTE Representative to ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and current RPTE Representative to the ABA Health Law Coordinating Counsel, 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.

Ms. Stamer also is a highly popular lecturer, symposia chair and author, who publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry, human resources, employment and other privacy, data security and other technology, regulatory and operational risk management. Examples of her many highly regarded publications on these matters include “Protecting & Using Patient Data In Disease Management: Opportunities, Liabilities And Prescriptions,” “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective,” “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security: Beyond HIPAA,” as well as thousands of other publications, programs and workshops these and other concerns for the American Bar Association, ALI-ABA, American Health Lawyers, Society of Human Resources Professionals, the Southwest Benefits Association, the Society of Employee Benefits Administrators, the American Law Institute, Lexis-Nexis, Atlantic Information Services, The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), InsuranceThoughtLeaders.com, Benefits Magazine, Employee Benefit News, Texas CEO Magazine, HealthLeaders, the HCCA, ISSA, HIMSS, Modern Healthcare, Managed Healthcare, Institute of Internal Auditors, Society of CPAs, Business Insurance, Employee Benefits News, World At Work, Benefits Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other symposia and publications. She also has served as an Editorial Advisory Board Member for human resources, employee benefit and other management focused publications of BNA, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com and many other prominent publications and speaks and conducts training for a broad range of professional organizations and for clientson the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see CynthiaStamer.com or the Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC or contact Ms. Stamer via email to here or via telephone to (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

©2016 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.

 


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

October 27, 2015

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

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

DCI  Discrimination Charge Settlement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her regulatory and public policy advocacy, publications, and public speaking on privacy and other compliance, risk management concerns. Her insights on privacy, data security, and other matters have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, and a host of other publications. She speaks and has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


OCR’s Proposed Sex & Other Discrimination Rules Spell Headaches & New Risks For Health Care Providers, Insurers & Others

September 3, 2015

November 6, 2015 is the deadline for health care providers, health insurance exchanges, Medicare Advantage plans, Medicaid Advantage plans, health insurers providing coverage in the health insurance marketplaces, their contractors and other concerned parties to comment on a proposed rule on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities published today by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement the federal prohibition against sex discrimination in health programs and activities enacted under Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and tightening other nondiscrimination requirements that generally apply to Health Insurance Marketplaces, any health program that HHS itself administers, and any health program or activity, any part of which receives funding from HHS, such as hospitals that accept Medicare patients or doctors who treat Medicaid patients, and health insurance issurers participating in the Health Insurance Marketplaces, Medicare or Medicaid Advantage Plans and other entities covered by the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) civil rights rules (covered entities) and various other programs and activities administered by HHS’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

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

Sex and Gender Identity Discrimination

Concerning the new prohibition against sex discrimination added by Section 1557 of the ACA, the proposed rule expressly provides that covered entities must treat woman equally with men in the health care they receive generally as well as specifically comments on the obligations of covered insurers with respect to sex discrimination including gender identity. While other provisions of the ACA bar certain types of sex discrimination in insurance, for example by prohibiting women from being charged more than men for coverage, the proposed regulation makes clear that the protections of Section 1557 reach even more broadly to prohibit sex discrimination both in the health coverage patients obtain as well as in the health services they seek from providers.

Not unexpectedly in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell and the Obama Administration’s proactive agenda on the advance of rights for lesbian, bisexual, gay and transsexual (LBGT) individuals, the proposed rule makes clear that OCR construes prohibited sex discrimination under Section 1557 to include discrimination based on gender identity as well as to address various coverage and care practices that OCR views as prohibited sex discrimination of LBGT individuals. In this respect, the proposed rule makes clear HHS’s commitment, as a matter of policy, to preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation by providing, among other things that Individuals may not be subject to discrimination based on gender identity by any covered entities including insurance policies and their issuers. OCR also highlights various policy provisions and other practices by insurers that it views as prohibited sex discrimination against transsexual individuals such as categorical exclusions on coverage of all care related to gender transition.  Similarly, the proposed rule also states that health care providers, insurers and other covered person must treat all individuals consistent with their gender identity, including in access to facilities. Beyond the already proposed safeguards against sex discrimination based on gender identity, OCR also requests comment on how a final rule can incorporate the most robust set of protections  against discrimination that are supported by the courts on an ongoing basis.

Other Nondiscrimination Rule Expansions

Beyond its requirements relating to sex discrimination, the proposed rule also addresses a host of other concerns relating to the civil rights rules more generally. As an initial matter, the proposed rule invites individuals in protected classes to file complaints and pursue other enforcement by confirming that OCR interprets Section 1557 as allowing individuals to seek legal remedies for discrimination under Section 1557. While OCR already has been allowing this in practice, this blessing of the right of individuals to seek legal remedies unquestionably will encourage the filing of more complaints and other private actions.

The proposed rule also would add more teeth to the already aggressive enforcement by OCR of its position that covered entities must accommodate community deficiencies of persons with cognitive, speech, hearing or other disabilities and English proficiency limitations on their ability to communicate on health care matters by establishing more detailed minimum standards for the provision of language services, such as oral interpreters and written translations to persons with limited English proficiency and to provide individuals with hearing or other disabilities affecting their ability to communicate to provide auxiliary aids and services, including alternative formats and sign language interpreters, and the accessibility of programs offered through electronic and information technology.  These proposed requirements are designed to provide more teeth and compliance with OCR’s expectation that covered entities will affirmatively act to offer accommodations needed to ensure the ability of individuals to communicate when the individual’s ability to understand or respond is impaired by disabilities or limited English proficiency.

Also, the proposed regulations specifically addresses various practices by Medicare and Medicaid Advantage plans and other insurers offering coverage in the marketplace that OCR views as discriminatory. For instance, the proposed rule states that insurers participating or offering coverage through any Health Insurance Marketplace cannot engage in any marketing practices or benefit designs that discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.  This prohibition would extend to all the plans of insurers participating in the Marketplace are covered by the proposed rule.

Beyond the already proposed expansion in the current regulatory expectations, OCR also invites input about additional requirements to broaden the safeguards in the proposed regulations by requesting comment on whether Section 1557 should include an exemption for religious organizations and what the scope of any such exemption should be as well as comment on how a final rule can incorporate the most robust set of protections  against discrimination that are supported by the courts on an ongoing basis.

Unquestionably these and other changes proposed in the proposed regulation likely will impact the practices and risks of virtually all covered entities. The proposed rule is open for public comment through November 6, 2015. Covered entities and other interested persons will want to promptly review the specifics of the proposed regulation in light of OCR’s already existing investigation and enforcement activities and their current or contemplated practices. To the extent appropriate, covered entities will want to ensure that they carefully prepare and submit all revelevant comment or other feedback promptly submitted on or before the November 6, 2015 comment deadline. Whether or not a covered entity elects to comment of the proposed regulations, however, all covered entities also should begin tightening and adapting their existing policies and practices to respond to the positions revealed by the proposed regulations, as OCR’s enforcement activities reflect that OCR will act to enforce many of these expectations even as it pursues adoption of the proposed regulations in final form.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes more than 23 years experience advising and defending hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care, housing, insurance and other  clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to discrimination and other charges from OCR, HUD, EEOC, DOJ, private claimants and others.  She also advises and assists a broad range of health industry and other clients to respond to and defend Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR, CMS & other HHS agencies, Department of Labor, IRS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting for several years with OCR.  Ms. Stamer also works extensively with health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance, investigations, defense, and other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on discrimination and other civil rights, pandemic and other contagious disease, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance, quality, reimbursement, and a broad range of other industry internal controls, compliance, risk management, employment, patient safety, staffing, credentialing, board governance, antitrust, contracting and other legal and operational concerns for a multitude of clients and associations ranging from the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans, Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, the American Health Lawyers Association, the Medical Group Management Association, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

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

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

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


McGraw Appointed New OCR Deputy Director

June 17, 2015

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Privacy and Data Security practice co-chair Deven McGraw has been tapped to serve as the new Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights Deputy Director for Health Information Privacy.

McGraw, who also previously served as the Director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, as the Chief Operating Officer at the National Partnership for Women & Families, and served as Chair of the federal Health IT Policy Committee Privacy and Security Workgroup.

According to OCR’s announcement of her appointment, McGraw will spearhead OCR’s policy, enforcement, and outreach efforts on the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules; as well as lead OCR’s work on Presidential and Departmental priorities on health privacy and security.  She is scheduled to join OCR on June 29, 2015.

More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 27 years of experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Among others, Ms. Stamer recently chaired the Third Annual Health Care Privacy & Security Forum hosted in conjunction with the 7th Annual Southern California ISSA-HIMSS Privacy & Security Summit  and has served on the steering committee for the Summit and spoken for the past four years. She also has provided HIPAA and other privacy and data security risk management and compliance training for the Association of state & Territorial Health Plans, a host of health care organizations, health plans, school districts and other academic medicine and other educational institutions, health plans, medical societies and staffs and others. She has been interviewed by national and local media about privacy and other issues arising in connection with the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Dallas and a wide range of other health care and other compliance, risk management and public policy concerns and her insights on these and other concerns frequently are published or quoted the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

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

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

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


Parkview Hospital To Pay $800K To Settle HIPAA Charges After Retiring Physician Blows The Whistle

July 6, 2014

Health care providers, health plans, heath care clearinghouses and their business associates heed both the lesson about properly protecting protected health information and the more subtle lesson about the role of employees and other whistleblowers in bringing these violations to the attention of regulators contained in the latest Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) resolution agreement.

Late last month, the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (HHS) announced that complaints of a retiring physician over the mishandling of her patient records by Parkview Health System, Inc. (Parkview) prompted the investigation that lead Parkview to agree to pay $800,000 to settle charges that it violated HIPAA’s Privacy Rule.

The resolution agreement settles charges lodged by HHS based on an OCR investigation into the retiring physician’s allegations that Parkview violated the HIPAA Privacy Rule by failing to properly safeguard the records when it returned them to the physician following her retirement.

As a covered entity under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA requires that Parkview appropriately and reasonably safeguard all protected health information in its possession, from the time it is acquired through its disposition.

In an investigation prompted by the physician’s complaint, OCR found that Parkview breached this responsibility in its handling of certain physician patient records in helping the physician to transition to retirement.

According to OCR, in September 2008, Parkview took custody of medical records pertaining to approximately 5,000 to 8,000 patients while assisting the retiring physician to transition her patients to new providers, and while considering the possibility of purchasing some of the physician’s practice.

Subsequently on June 4, 2009, Parkview employees, with notice that the physician was not at home, left 71 cardboard boxes of these medical records unattended and accessible to unauthorized persons on the driveway of the physician’s home, within 20 feet of the public road and a short distance away from a heavily trafficked public shopping venue. OCR concluded this conduct violated the Privacy Rule.

To settle OCR’s charges that these actions violated HIPAA, OCR has agreed to pay the $800,000 resolution amount and to adopt and implement a corrective action plan requiring Parkview to revise their policies and procedures, train staff, and provide an implementation report to OCR.

The resolution agreement highlights the role that current or former physicians, employees or others can play in helping OCR to identify HIPAA violations.  Health care providers and other covered entities and their business associates should take into account the likelihood that physicians on their own or other facility medical staffs, their employees and other participants in the care delivery system often may have and be motivated to report to government sensitive information about violations of HIPAA or other laws.  Since HIPAA and most other laws prohibited covered entities from forbidding or retaliating against a person for objectiving to or reporting the concern and offer whistleblowers potential participation in the reporting and prosecution of violations, employees or other workforce members increasingly make the complaints bring violations to OCR and other regulators.

Whether from an internal employee complaint, a  patient or competitor complaint or other source, HIPAA violations carry significant liability risks.  The HITECH Act tightened certain rules applicable to the use, access or disclosure of protected health information by covered entities and their business associates.  In addition, the HITECH Act added breach notification rules, extended direct responsibility for compliance with HIPAA to business associates, increased penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA and made other refinements to HIPAA’s medical privacy rules and made certain other changes.  Furthermore, enforcement of HIPAA and the resulting penalties have increased since the HITECH Act took effect.

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations higher than ever since the HITECH Act amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, Covered Entities and business associates not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, but also document their commitment and ongoing compliance and risk management activities to help support their ability to show their organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation and take well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage their business associates to do the same.    When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws like the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information, trade secrets or other sensitive data under applicable federal and state laws and judicial precedent.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your HIPAA, or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, privacy and data security, or other internal controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or at (469)767-8872.

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on privacy and data security and other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  Her many highly regarded publications on privacy and data security concerns include “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective.” ERISA Litigation Manual. BNA, 2003-2009; “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell.” BNA Tax Management and Compliance Journal. February 4, 2005; “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security beyond HIPAA.” ABA Health eSource. May, 2005 and many others.  She also regularly conducts training on HIPAA and other privacy and data security compliance and other risk management matters for a broad range of organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Healthcare Organizations (ASTHO), the Los Angeles County Health Department, a multitude of health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, the American Bar Association, SHRM, the Society for Professional Benefits Administrators and many others.  Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at http://www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Health Care & Other HIPAA Covered Entities Should Review New Reports As Part of HIPAA Risk Management Efforts

June 11, 2014

Health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (collectively “Covered Entities”), their business associates, and others concerned about medical privacy regulations or protections should check out two new reports to Congress about breach notifications reported and other compliance data under the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR).   Reviewing this data can help Covered Entities and their business associates identify potential areas of exposures and enforcement that can be helpful to minimize their HIPAA liability as well as to expect OCR enforcement and audit inquiries.

Required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the two new reports discuss various details about HIPAA compliance for calendar years 2011 and 2012.  They include the following:

  • Report to Congress on Breach Notifications, discussing the breach notification requirements and reports OCR received as a result of these breach notification requirements; and
  • Report to Congress on Compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, summarizing complaints received by OCR of alleged violations of the provisions of Subtitle D of the HITECH Act, as well as of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules at 45 CFR Parts 160 and 164 .
  • Covered entities and their business associates should review the finding reported as part of their compliance practices. Others concerned about medical or other privacy or data security regulations or events also may find the information in the reports of interest.

Under HIPAA, covered entities generally are prohibited from using, accessing or disclosing protected health information about individuals except as specifically allowed by HIPAA,  In addition, HIPAA also requires Covered Entities to establish safeguards to protect protected health information against improper access, use or destruction, to afford certain rights to individuals who are the subjects of protected information, to obtain certain written assurances from service providers who are business associates before allowing those service providers to use, access or disclose protected health information when carrying out covered functions for the Covered Entity, and meet other requirements.

The HITECH Act tightened certain rules applicable to the use, access or disclosure of protected health information by covered entities and their business associates.  In addition, the HITECH Act added breach notification rules, extended direct responsibility for compliance with HIPAA to business associates, increased penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA and made other refinements to HIPAA’s medical privacy rules and made certain other changes.

Enforcement of HIPAA and the resulting penalties have increased since the HITECH Act took effect.

Covered Entities generally have been required to comply with most requirements the Omnibus Final Rule’s restated regulations restating OCR’s regulations implementing the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules to reflect HIPAA amendments enacted by the HITECH Act since March 26, 2013 and to have updated business associate agreements in place since September 23, 2013.  Although these deadlines are long past, many Covered Entities and business associates have yet to complete the policy, process and training updates required to comply with the rule changes implemented in  the Omnibus Final Rule.

Even if a Covered Entity or business associate completed the updates required to comply with the Omnibus Final Rule, however, recent supplemental guidance published by OCR means that most organizations now have even more work to do on HIPAA compliance. This includes the following supplemental guidance on its interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA against Covered Entities and business associates published by OCR since January 1, 2014 alone:

Beyond this 2014 guidance, Covered Entities and their business associates also should look at enforcement actions and data as well as other guidance OCR issued during 2013 after publishing the Omnibus Final Rule such as:

With OCR stepping up both audits and enforcement and penalties for violations higher than ever since the HITECH Act amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and business associates should act quickly to review and update their policies, practices and training to implement any adjustments needed to maintain compliance and manage other risks under these ever-evolving HIPAA standards.

When conducting these efforts, Covered Entities and business associates not only carefully watch for and react promptly to new OCR guidance and enforcement actions, but also document their commitment and ongoing compliance and risk management activities to help support their ability to show their organization maintains the necessary “culture of compliance” commitment needed to mitigate risks in the event of a breach or other HIPAA violation and take well-documented, reasonable steps to encourage their business associates to do the same.    When carrying out these activities, most covered entities and business associates also will want to take steps to monitor potential responsibilities and exposures under other federal and state laws like the privacy and data security requirements that often apply to personal financial information, trade secrets or other sensitive data under applicable federal and state laws and judicial precedent.

For Help With Investigations, Policy Review & Updates Or Other Needs

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your HIPAA, or other health or other employee benefit, labor and employment, compensation, privacy and data security, or other internal controls and practices, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or at (469)767-8872.

The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security, health plan, health care and other human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and related matters.

For more than 23 years, Ms. Stamer has counseled, represented and trained employers and other employee benefit plan sponsors, plan administrators and fiduciaries, insurers and financial services providers, third party administrators, human resources and employee benefit information technology vendors and others privacy and data security, fiduciary responsibility, plan design and administration and other compliance, risk management and operations matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on privacy and data security and other human resources, employee benefits and health care concerns.  Her many highly regarded publications on privacy and data security concerns include “Privacy Invasions of Medical Care-An Emerging Perspective.” ERISA Litigation Manual. BNA, 2003-2009; “Privacy & Securities Standards-A Brief Nutshell.” BNA Tax Management and Compliance Journal. February 4, 2005; “Cybercrime and Identity Theft: Health Information Security beyond HIPAA.” ABA Health eSource. May, 2005 and many others.  She also regularly conducts training on HIPAA and other privacy and data security compliance and other risk management matters for a broad range of organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Healthcare Organizations (ASTHO), the Los Angeles County Health Department, a multitude of health plans and their sponsors, health care providers, the American Bar Association, SHRM, the Society for Professional Benefits Administrators and many others.  Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see www.CynthiaStamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also may be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press resources available at http://www.solutionslawpress.com including:

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

©2014 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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

March 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health Care Providers Must Strengthen Disability Compliance & Risk Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


CMS Publishes FY 2014 Final Inpatient Rehab Facility Prospective Payment Rule

August 1, 2013

Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRFs) take note.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services yesterday (July 31, 2013) published its final Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility (IRF), Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility Prospective Payment System for Federal Fiscal Year 2014 Final Rule (Rule). The Rule, which with its preamble is 272 pages, among other things:

  • Updates the prospective payment rates for (IRFs) for federal fiscal year (FY) 2014 (for discharges occurring on or after October 1, 2013 and on or before September 30, 2014) as required by the statute.
  • Revises the list of diagnosis codes that may be counted toward an IRF’s “60 percent rule” compliance calculation to determine “presumptive compliance,” update the IRF facility-level adjustment factors using an enhanced estimation methodology;
  • Revises sections of the Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility-Patient Assessment Instrument,
  • Revises requirements for acute care hospitals that have IRF units;
  • Clarifies the IRF regulation text regarding limitation of review;
  • Updates references to previously changed sections in the regulations text; and
  • Revises and updates quality measures and reporting requirements under the IRF quality reporting program.

The regulatory amendments in this Rule generally are effective as follows:

  • Its revisions to the list of diagnosis codes used to determine presumptive compliance under the “60 percent rule” are applicable for compliance review periods beginning on or after October 1, 2014; and
  • The updated IRF prospective payment rates are applicable for IRF discharges occurring on or after October 1, 2013 and on or before September 30, 2014 (FY 2014).
  • The changes to the Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility-Patient Assessment Instrument, the amendments to §412.25, and the revised and updated quality measures and reporting requirements under the IRF quality reporting program are applicable for IRF discharges occurring on or after October 1, 2014.

IRFs, their operators, management and investors should review the new rules, update their practices and budgets and make other arrangements to respond effectively to the Rule.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance responding to regulatory, enforcement or other developments, reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  here.

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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


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

July 30, 2013

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

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

Health Care Providers & Industry Under Fire For Disability Discrimination

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

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

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

Specifically under the ADA:

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

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

Justice Department ADA Suit Against Brown & PCTC

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Department Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative Successes Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice Department Plans To Keep Heat On Health Care Providers

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

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

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

Health Industry Disability Discrimination Risks:  Beyond The Justice Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Disability Discrimination Risks

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

Act To Manage & Mitigate Disability Risks

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

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

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

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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

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

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

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

 

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


OCR To Covered Entities: Learn From WellPoint $1.7 Settlement

July 12, 2013

WellPoint $1.7 M HIPAA Settlement Expensive Lesson On HIPAA Risks Of Leaving PHI Too Accessible In Web-Based Applications

With health care providers, health care organizations and others increasingly using Web-based applications and portals in operations and patient communications, managed care company WellPoint Inc. (WellPoint) is learning a $1.7 million lesson about the importance of ensuring Web-based applications and portals that allow access to members or other consumers protected health information (PHI) incorporate the administrative, technical and other security safeguards required by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security rules.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) announced late yesterday (July 11, 2013) that WellPoint has agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle OCR charges that WellPoint violated the HIPAA Security Rule and left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet by failing to implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards in its Web-based applications. See WellPoint HIPAA Settlement Press Release.

Web-based application use is increasingly popular among health care providers, health plans, employers and others.   Health care providers use them for health care operations, as well as patient engagement and communication tools.  Employers and health plans use them both in plan administration and as member tools.

The WellPoint settlement shows that managed care and other health insurers, health plans and their employer or other sponsors, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates can’t let their enthusiasm for the ease of use of these products to compromise the security of PHI.

Rather, health care providers and other Covered Entities, employer and other  health plan sponsors, their business associates, and the Web and other technology developers, providers and consultants marketing products, services or other solutions to these organizations should learn from WellPoint’s hard lesson to ensure that current and future Web-based applications, portals and other information system components that are or could be used to provide access to PHI incorporate the Security Rule safeguards both when originally implemented and with each subsequent upgrade.

HIPAA Privacy, Security & Breach Notification Rules Require PHI Safeguards & Other Protections

The Breach Notification Rule added to HIPAA under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH Act requires HIPAA-covered entities to notify OCR, affected individuals and the media promptly of a breach of “unsecured protected health information” (UPHI) impacting more than 500 individuals.  For smaller breaches, the Breach Notification Rule still requires prompt notice to impacted individuals, but allows Covered Entities to disclose the breach to OCR as part of an annual breach report and to forego notification to the media. UPHI generally includes any PHI, whether or not ePHI that is not either secured or destroyed in the manner described by the Breach Notification Rules.

In addition to the Breach Notification Rule, most Covered Entities and their business associates also are subject to state laws or regulations that impose similar or additional breach notification and other standards and responsibilities on the protection of personal health or other data including required notification and other responses following a breach of the security of UPHI or other PHI.

WellPoint’s $1.7 HIPAA Security Mistake

WellPoint’s $1.7 million settlement lesson resulted from an OCR investigation started in response to a breach report WellPoint submitted to comply with the Breach Notification Rules.

According to OCR, the Breach Report indicated that security weaknesses in an online application database left the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of 612,402 individuals accessible to unauthorized individuals over the Internet.

OCR says its investigation indicated that WellPoint did not implement appropriate administrative and technical safeguards as required under the HIPAA Security Rule.  According to OCR, WellPoint did not:

  • Adequately implement policies and procedures for authorizing access to the on-line application database;
  • Perform an appropriate  technical evaluation in response to a software upgrade to its information systems; or
  • Have technical safeguards in place to verify the person or entity seeking access to electronic protected health information maintained in its application database.

As a result, OCR concluded that from October 23, 2009 until March 7, 2010, WellPoint impermissibly disclosed the ePHI of 612,402 individuals by allowing access to their ePHI maintained in the application database. This data included names, dates of birth, addresses, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers and health information.

Under the resulting WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement, WellPoint must pay OCR a $1.7 million settlement payment as well as take a series of corrective actions to correct the deficiencies in its policies and practices that resulted in the reported breach to minimize future risks of breaches resulting from these deficient.

OCR Warns Learn From WellPoint’s Experience

All Covered Entities and their business associates and leaders should heed the lesson sent to them by OCR in announcing the WellPoint settlement and take appropriate steps other to ensure that appropriate policies and safeguards are adopted and applied in selecting and implementing future application or system upgrades, as well as review existing systems to ensure that the security of existing systems and applications have incorporated and apply the requisite safeguards.

OCR made clear that the WellPoint settlement is intended to send a message to Covered Entities and their business associates to ensure that these steps are appropriately taken.  The settlement announcement states:

This case sends an important message to HIPAA-covered entities to take caution when implementing changes to their information systems, especially when those changes involve updates to Web-based applications or portals that are used to provide access to consumers’ health data using the Internet. Whether systems upgrades are conducted by covered entities or their business associates, HHS expects organizations to have in place reasonable and appropriate technical, administrative and physical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of electronic protected health information – especially information that is accessible over the Internet.

The settlement announcement also reminds business associates that OCR will begin holding them directly accountable along with their Covered Entity clients for complying with many HIPAA requirements beginning in September, stating:

Beginning Sept. 23, 2013, liability for many of HIPAA’s requirements will extend directly to business associates that receive or store protected health information, such as contractors and subcontractors.

Take Documented Steps To Show You Hear OCR’s Messages

Covered entities and their business associates and leaders, and vendors and consultants offering services or products to them should take care to conduct careful and well-documented reviews and implement corrective actions necessary to show their applications and systems, policies and practices reflect their strong commitment and action to appropriately protect PHI in accordance with the expectations shown by the WellPoint HIPAA Resolution Agreement and other OCR settlements, OCR’s updated HIPAA regulations, and other OCR and industry information.

In addition to the guidance set forth in OCR’s Resolution Agreements with WellPoint and other Covered Entities, revisions to OCR’s Privacy and Security Rules in OCR’s 2013 restatement of its regulations here cause all Covered Entities and their business associates conduct a well-documented reassessment of the adequacy of their existing policies, systems and practices and steps taken to redress any uncovered gaps.

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

  • Revise OCR’s HIPAA regulations to reflect the HITECH Act’s amendment of HIPAA to add the contractors and subcontractors of health plans, health care providers and health care clearinghouses that qualify as business associates to the parties directly responsible for complying with and subject to HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties for violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules;
  • Update previous interim regulations implementing HITECH Act breach notification rules that require Covered Entities including business associates to give specific notifications to individuals whose PHI is breached, HHS and in some cases, the media when a breach of unsecured information happens;
  • Update interim enforcement guidance OCR previously published to implement increased penalties and other changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions enacted by the HITECH Act;
  • Implement HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA that tighten the conditions under which Covered Entities are allowed to use or disclose PHI for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibit Covered Entities from selling an individual’s health information without getting the individual’s authorization in the manner required by the 2013 Regulations;
  • Update OCR’s rules about the individual rights that HIPAA requires that Covered Entities to afford to individuals who are the subject of PHI used or possessed by a Covered Entity to reflect tightened requirements enacted by the HITECH Act  that allow individuals to order their health care provider not to share information about their treatment with health plans when the individual pays cash for the care and to clarify that individuals can require Covered Entities to provide electronic PHI in electronic form;
  • Revise the regulations to reflect amendments to HIPAA made as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which added genetic information to the definition of PHI protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and prohibits health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes; and
  • Clarifies and revises other provisions to reflect other interpretations and information guidance that OCR has issued since HIPAA was passed and to make certain other changes that OCR found appropriate based on its experience administering and enforcing the rules.

Covered Entities were required to begin complying with most of these rule changes earlier this year.  However, delayed compliance dates in the 2013 Regulations allowed Covered Entities and Business Associates to delay updates to pre-existing business associate agreements and the date that OCR would begin enforcing many of the HIPAA Rules directly against business associates to September 23, 2013.

Even without the necessity Settlements like that involving WellPoint, these 2013 Regulations make it imperative that Covered Entities to take the necessary steps to conduct an appropriate and well-documented review  and update as needed their systems, policies and practices,  business associate agreements, training and documentation.

With self-disclosures of breaches mandated by the Breach Notification Rules and OCR audits and enforcement rising, careful documentation of these activities and its analysis is necessary so that Covered Entities can be in a position to show OCR that the risk assessments required by the Security Rules was conducted as well as the efforts and commitment of the Covered Entity or business associate in the event of a breach investigation or audit. Yesterday’s WellPoint HIPAA announcement is just the latest in an ever-growing list of examples of the expensive consequences that can result if a Covered Entity or business associate cannot produce this documentation in response to an OCR audit or investigation. See, e.g.  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other SafeguardsIn contrast, the OCR website also provides a multitude of examples showing how the ability to produce documentation and other evidence showing diligent efforts to comply has helped other covered entities that fall under OCR investigation to avoid or mitigate serious sanctions.

Coupled with statements by OCR about its intolerance, the WellPoint and other settlements provide a strong warning to covered entities of the need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA encryption and other Privacy and Security responsibilities. Covered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures.

In response to the 2013 Regulations and these expanding exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions against WellPoint and others, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.  Covered Entities and business associates should document this review in a manner that both reflects the scope and diligence of their activities including relevant considerations and decision-making about identified potential susceptibilities and reasoning about the adequacy of safeguards and other solutions.

Because this review is likely to uncover existing or past deficiencies or breaches, most covered entities and business associates will want to discuss with qualified legal counsel the planned assessment within the scope of attorney-client privilege to understand when and how to conduct the assessment to preserve options to claim attorney-client privilege to protect sensitive work product or discussions that may result in the course of the investigation within the attorney-client communication, work product or other evidentiary privileges, evaluation of the adequacy and appropriateness of the audit and resulting investigations and its documentation, and other assistance in strengthening the defensibility of compliance and risk management activities.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other human resources, employee benefit, or other compliance, risk management, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Nationally recognized for her extensive work, publications and leadership on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, Ms. Stamer has extensive experience representing, advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical and other privacy and data security, employment, employee benefits, and to handle other compliance and risk management policies and practices; to investigate and respond to OCR and other enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health care providers, health plans and their sponsors, their workforces, professional associations and others.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her presentations and programs include a wide range of compliance, risk management and other workshops, programs and publications.

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

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

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


Hospital Pay $275K To Settle HIPAA Charges After Sharing PHI With Press, Workforce In Response To Fraud Reports

June 14, 2013

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates should confirm their existing policies, practices and training for communicating with the media and others comply with the Privacy Rule requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule in light of a Resolution Agreement with Shasta Regional Medical Center (SRMC) announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights today (June 14, 2013).

Under the Resolution Agreement, SRMC agrees to pay $275,000 and implement a comprehensive corrective action plan (CAP) to settle an investigation that resulted when SRMC used and disclosed protected health information (PHI) of a patient to members of the media and its workforce while trying to do damage control against fraud or other allegations of misconduct involving individual patient information or circumstances.  The Resolution Agreement shows how efforts to respond to press or media reports, patient or other complaints, physician or employee disputes, high profile accidents, or other events that may involve communications not typically run by privacy officers can create big exposures.

Talking Out Of Turn To Media & Others Violated HIPAA

OCR investigated SRMC after a January 4, 2012 Los Angeles Times article reported two SRMC senior leaders had met with media to discuss medical services provided to a patient.  OCR’s investigation indicated that SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s protected health information (PHI) from impermissible disclosure by intentionally disclosing PHI to multiple media outlets on at least three separate occasions, without a valid written authorization. OCR’s review also revealed senior management at SRMC impermissibly shared details about the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment in an email to the entire workforce.  Further, SRMC failed to sanction its workforce members for impermissibly disclosing the patient’s records pursuant to its internal sanctions policy.

Among other things, the specific misconduct uncovered by HHS’s investigation indicated that from December 13 – 20, 2011, SRMC failed to safeguard the patient’s PHI from any impermissible intentional or unintentional disclosure on multiple occasions in connection with its response to media coverage arising from a Medicare fraud story including:

  • On December 13, 2011, for instance, OCR reports SRMC’s parent company sent a letter to California Watch, responding to a story about Medicare fraud. The letter described  the patient’s medical treatment and provided specifics about her lab results even though SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this news outlet.
  • On December 16, 2011, two of SRMC’s senior leaders also met with The Record Searchlight’s editor to discuss the patient’s medical record in detail even though SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this newspaper.
  • On December 20, 2011, SRMC sent a letter to The Los Angeles Times, which contained detailed information about the treatment  the patient received when, again, SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to disclose this information to this newspaper.

In addition, OCR found SRMC impermissibly used the affected party’s PHI  when on December 20, 2011, SRMC sent an email to its entire workforce and medical staff, approximately 785-900 individuals, describing, in detail,  the patient’s medical condition, diagnosis and treatment. SRMC did not have a written authorization from  the patient to share this information with SRMC’s entire workforce and medical staff.

SRMC Must Correct & Pay $$275K Penalty

Under the Resolution Agreement, SRMC pays a $275,000 monetary settlement and agrees to comply with a CAP for the next year.

The CAP requires SRMC to update its policies and procedures on safeguarding PHI from impermissible uses and disclosures and to train its workforce members.  The CAP also requires fifteen other hospitals or medical centers under the same ownership or operational control as SRMC to attest to their understanding of permissible uses and disclosures of PHI, including disclosures to the media.

The Resolution Agreement specifically requires that Shasta Regional Medical Center, among other things:

  • To update policies to include specific policies about sharing PHI with the media, members of the workforce not involved in an individual patient’s care and others to comply with HIPAA;.
  • To provide updated policies to OCR for approval;
  • To provide training documented with certification of all workforce members before allowing them to access PHI;

SRMC is one of several Prime Healthcare Services facilities under common ownership and control.  The Resolution Agreement also requires corrective action at these commonly owned facilities including California-based Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Chino Valley Medical Center in Chino, Desert Valley Hospital in Victorville, Garden Grove Hospital Medical Center in Garden Grove,  La Palma Intercommunity Hospital in La Palma, Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, San Dimas Community Hospital in San Dimas, Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding, and West Anaheim Medical Center in Anaheim; Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada; Pennsylvania based Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol and Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia;and Texas-based Dallas Medical Center in Dallas, Harlingen Medical Center in Harlingen, Pampa Regional Medical Center in Pampa.  Among other things, the Resolution Agreement requires that for each of these related facilities:

  • The CEO and Privacy Officer of each facility must give OCR a signed affidavit stating that they understand that the Privacy Rule protects an individual’s PHI is protected by Privacy Rule even if such information is already in the public domain or even though it has been disclosed by the individual; and that disclosures of PHI in response to media inquiries are only permissible pursuant to a signed HIPAA authorization; and
  • Ensure all members of their respective workforce are informed of this policy.

The Resolution Agreement highlights the difficulty that health care providers and other covered entities often face in properly recognizing and handling PHI in the case of fraud or other disputes.  While health care providers have an understandable desire to defend themselves in the media and elsewhere in response to charges of misconduct, today’s settlement shows that improperly sharing PHI of each patient in the process will make matters much worse. It’s important to keep in mind that just omitting to mention the name or other common identifying information may not overcome this concern because information about a patient can be considered individually identifiable and to enjoy protection under HIPAA where the facts and circumstances would allow another person to know or determine who the individual is, even if the specific name, address or more common identifying information is not shared.

Furthermore, the settlement also makes clear that merely because the patient or some other party has shared the same information with the media or others does not excuse the health care provider or other covered entity or business associate from the obligation to keep confidential the PHI unless it gets proper consent or otherwise can show that an exception to HIPAA applies.

While this  means that health care providers or other covered entities and business associates may find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of facing unsavory reports and rumors without the ability to respond, the significant civil and even criminal penalties that can arise from violation of HIPAA make it critical that covered entities exercise discipline in responding to avoid sharing PHI improperly.

Enforcement Actions Highlight Growing HIPAA Exposures For Covered Entities

The SRMC Resolution Agreement again shows the growing risk of enforcement that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates face as OCR continues its audits and enforcement, new Omnibus HIPAA Regulations implementing the HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA and state and federal liability grows..  See e.g., $1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website

In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to determine if additional steps are necessary or advisable.

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

For more information about the PCS Resolution Agreement and HIPAA compliance and risk management tips, see here.

For Representation, Training & Other Resources

If you need assistance monitoring HIPAA and other health and health plan related regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

Scheduled to serve as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  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, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer hereExamples of some recent publications that may be of interest include:

If you need help investigating or responding to a known or suspected compliance, litigation or enforcement or other risk management concern, assistance with reviewing, updating, administering or defending a current or proposed employment, employee benefit, compensation or other management practice, wish to inquire about federal or state regulatory compliance audits, risk management or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms Stamer here or at (469) 767-8872.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information on this communication click here.    If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject to here.

©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


OCR Shares New Tools to Educate Consumers and Providers about HIPAA Privacy and Security

April 30, 2013

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has developed an array of new tools to educate consumers and health care providers about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules.  

Many consumers are unfamiliar with their rights under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  With that in mind, OCR has posted a series of factsheets, also available in eight languages, to inform consumers about their rights under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. These materials are available on OCR’s website here

The fact sheets compliment a set of seven consumer-facing videos released earlier this year on OCR’s YouTube channel.  An additional video, The HIPAA Security Rule, has been designed for providers in small practices and offers an overview of how to establish basic safeguards to protect patient information and comply with the Security Rule’s requirements. The videos are available on the HHS OCR YouTube Channel at here.

OCR has also launched three modules for health care providers on compliance with various aspects of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, available at Medscape.org:

  • Patient Privacy: A Guide for Providers at here;
  • HIPAA and You: Building a Culture of Compliance here; and
  • Examining Compliance with the HIPAA Privacy Rule here.

The Medscape modules offer free Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits for physicians and Continuing Education (CE) credits for health care professionals. 

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health plan privacy and data security matters, Ms. Stamer serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Technical Session meeting with OCR each May and has worked, spoken and published extensively on these and other privacy and data security concerns and controls.  Extensively published and a popular speaker on HIPAA and other data security matters, Ms. Stamer works extensively with health care providers, health plans, employers, insurance and financial services, technology and other clients on privacy, data seurity and other privacy and cybercrime concerns.  She also serves as the Scribe for the ABA JCEB Agency Techical Sessions Meetings with the Office of Civil Rights which occur each May in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

 

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

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


HHS Publishes Medicaid Expansion Final Regs, Invites Public Comment

April 1, 2013

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has published its final rule with a request for comments that provides, effective January 1, 2014, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost of certain newly eligible adult Medicaid beneficiaries.  These payments will be in effect through 2016, phasing down to a permanent 90 percent matching rate by 2020.  The Affordable Care Act authorizes states to expand Medicaid to adult Americans under age 65 with income of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level (approximately $15,000 for a single adult in 2012) and provides unprecedented federal funding for these states.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states that cover the new adult group in Medicaid will have 100 percent of the costs of newly eligible Americans paid for by the federal government in 2014, 2015, and 2016. The federal government’s contribution is then phased-down gradually to 90 percent by 2020, and remains there permanently.  For states that had coverage expansions in effect prior to enactment of the Affordable Care Act, the rule also provides information about the availability of an increased FMAP for certain adults who are not newly eligible.

For the full text of the final rule, see http://www.ofr.gov/inspection.aspx.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health plan privacy and data security matters, Ms. Stamer serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Technical Session meeting with OCR each May and has worked, spoken and published extensively on these and other privacy and data security concerns and controls.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


OCR Invites Comments On Plans to Survey HIPAA Covered Entities Audited Under 2012 HIPAA Audit Program

March 25, 2013

The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) wants to ask the 115 health plans, health care clearinghouses, and health care providers (covered entities) that OCR audited in 2012 for compliance with Privacy and Security Rules of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)  under its HIPAA Audit Program to share feedback about their experience.  The planned survey announcement follows OCR’s recent released of restated HIPAA Privacy & Security Rules scheduled to take effect in September, 2013 and as OCR continues and expanding its HIPAA Audit Program in 2013.  All together, the signs are clear that covered entities should update and strengthen their HIPAA compliance and risk management practices to withstand the tightened rules and enforcement.

OCR initiated the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to comply with Section 13411 of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act’s requirement that it audit covered entity and business associate compliance with the HIPAA privacy, security, and breach notification rules.  While it continues its HIPAA Audit Program in 2013, OCR also is evaluating the effectiveness of the HIPAA Audit Program audits in 2012. 

To this end, OCR currently is conducting a review of the HIPAA Audit program to determine its efficacy in assessing the HIPAA compliance efforts of covered entities.  As part of that review, OCR plans to ask covered entities audited under the HIPAA Audit Program in 2012 to complete an online survey about their experience.  In anticipation of its conduct of the proposed surveys, OCR is inviting public comment on the burden to Covered Entities to complete the planned online survey, which OCR estimates will take two hours to complete through May 20, 2013.  According to OCR, the survey will gather information on the effect of the audits on the audited entities and the entities’ opinions about the audit process. The online survey will be used to:

  • Measure the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on covered entities;
  • Gauge their attitudes towards the audit overall and in regards to major audit program features, such as the document request, communications received, the on-site visit, the audit report findings and recommendations;
  • Obtain estimates of costs incurred by covered entities, in time and money, spent responding to audit-related requests;
  • Seek feedback on the effect of the HIPAA Audit program on the day-to-day business operations; and
  • Assess whether improvements in HIPAA compliance were achieved as a result of the Audit program.

OCR says it will use the information, opinions, and comments collected using the online survey to produce recommendations for improving the HIPAA Audit program.

For instructions to comment or more details, see here.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 25 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experience with health plan privacy and data security matters, Ms. Stamer serves as the scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Technical Session meeting with OCR each May and has worked, spoken and published extensively on these and other privacy and data security concerns and controls.

Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers and other health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and to respond to DEA and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns including a number of programs and publications on OCR Civil Rights rules and enforcement actions. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here

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

About Solutions Law Press

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

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

THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Hospital’s Disability Discrimination Settlement 4th In 5 Weeks For Justice Department

March 13, 2013

Health Care Providers Must Strengthen Disability Compliance & Risk Management

Health care providers beware! The Obama Administration is targeting health care providers that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) and other federal disability discrimination laws. 

On March 13, 2013, the Justice Department announced that Glenbeigh Hospital (Glenbeigh) of Rock Creek, Ohio is the fourth health care provider in five weeks to agree to a settlement with the Justice Department resolving disability discrimination charges brought under its Barrier Free Health Care Initiative (Initiative).  The Glenbeigh settlement is one of a growing list of disability discrimination settlements and judgements against health care providers brought by the Justice Department, the Department of Health & Human Resources Office of Civil Rights and other federal agencies. 

Barrier Free Health Care Initiative Targets Health Care Providers For Disability Discrimination

Launched on the 22nd anniversary of the ADA in July 2012, the Initiative is a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and 40 U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation, that targets ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities.

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

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

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

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

Glenbeigh ADA Disability Discrimination Settlement

According to the Justice Department, Glenbeigh has agreed to a settlement resolving charges it violated the ADA by denying admission to someone because of HIV.  The fourth ADA disability discrimination settlement addressing HIV discrimination by a medical provider reached by the Justice Department in six weeks, the settlement requires Glenbeigh to pay $32,500 to the complainant, $5,000 in civil penalties, train its staff on the ADA and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy. 

The settlement resolves Justice Department charges that engaged in prohibited disability discrimination in violation of the ADA by unlawfully refusing to admit someone with HIV into its alcohol treatment program because of the side effects of his HIV medication.   Glenbeigh’s alcohol treatment program consists of helping patients through the physical aspects of recovery, as well as providing counseling and incorporating spiritual healing.   The Justice Department determined Glenbeigh cannot show that treating the complainant would have posed a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

In announcing the Glenbeigh settlement, the Justice Department warned other providers against illegal disability discrimination against individuals with HIV or other disabilities.

“Ensuring access to medical care for people with HIV requires that those in the medical field make medical decisions that are not based on fears or stereotypes,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.   “The ADA does not tolerate HIV discrimination and neither will the Justice Department.”

Glenbeigh Settlement Part of Larger Disability Enforcement Trend

Settlements like Glenbeigh’s are growing increasingly common as the Initiative picks up steam.  As part of a broader emphasis on the enforcement of disability and other federal discrimination laws by the Obama Administration, Federal agencies are making investigation and prosecution of suspected disability discrimination by health industry and other organizations a priority.  

In the past five weeks, the Justice Department announced similar agreements with Woodlawn Family Dentistry, the Castlewood Treatment Center, and the Fayetteville Pain Center to address HIV discrimination. These new settlements add to a growing list of Justice Department disability discrimination enforcement actions against health care providers.   Along side a growing list of disability discrimination settlements and prosections, the Justice Department has a website dedicated to disabilities law enforcement, which includes links to settlements, briefs, findings letters, and other materials. 

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

Providers Should Act To Manage Patient-Related Disability Discrimination Risks

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

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

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled

March 5, 2013

 Health care providers dealing with patients with hearing, language, cognitive, or other disabilities are reminded to use care to provide interpreters or other accommodations when necessary to care for disabled or other language limited patients by a settlement announced with Genesis HealthCare (Genesis).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR)   announced today that Genesis has reached an agreement to settle OCR charges that it violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Act) by failing to provide an interpreter for a language impaired patient.  The latest in a growing list of enforcement actions by OCR against health care providers for failing to provide interpreters or other accommodations for disabled, English-as-a-second-language, or other language impaired patients, it reminds health care providers of the importance of providing appropriate interpreter or other accommodations needed to enable patients to properly understand and participate in their care.  The announcement comes as HHS is releasing new resources reminding health care providers and others of the need to provide appropriate language access resources to these and other patients and their caregivers with language challenges.

Genesis Settlement

As interpreted by OCR, the Act requires that health care and other facilities covered by the Act take appropriate steps to ensure effective communications with patients when delivering health care or other services.

The settlement follows an OCR investigation of a complaint that Genesis, one of the largest providers of senior care violated the Act by failing to provide a qualified interpreter to a resident at its skilled nursing facility in its Randallstown, Maryland.  Genesis operates more than 400 skilled nursing centers and assisted/senior living communities across 29 states.

According to OCR, an OCR investigation conducted under the Act found Genesis center staff at the facility harmed the health care and overall health status of the patient by not providing a qualified interpreter, evaluations of his care and discussions on the effects of his numerous medications and the risks caused by not following recommended treatments and prescription protocols. OCR charged the Genesis staff improperly relied on written notes and gestures to communicate with the resident—even while conducting a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation of him.  OCR concluded that a qualified sign language interpreter was necessary for the patient and staff to be able to communicate effectively with each other regarding treatment.

Under the settlement terms, all 400 Genesis skilled nursing facilities must comply with the terms and conditions of the settlement.  The settlement also requires Genesis to form an auxiliary aids and services hotline; create an advisory committee to provide guidance and direction on how to best communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community; designate a monitor to conduct a self-assessment and get feedback from deaf and hard of hearing individuals and advocates and conduct outreach to promote awareness of hearing impairments and services that are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  In addition Genesis will  pay monetary penalties for noncompliance with any terms of the agreement.

In announcing the settlement, OCR Director emphasized OCR’s commitment to enforcing the Act’s nondiscrimination provisions.  “This patient’s care was unnecessarily and significantly compromised by the stark absence of interpreter services,” said Rodriguez.  “My office continues its enforcement activities and work with providers, particularly large health care systems like Genesis, to make certain that compliance with nondiscrimination laws is a system wide obligation.”

The settlement follows two enforcement actions by OCR in early February to ensure deaf and hard of hearing individuals living in New York and Washington, D.C., have equal access to programs and services provided by local government agencies. Like the settlement announced today, both of those actions arose from complaints that individuals were denied interpreters.  In those cases, the needed interpreters were sign language interpreters in Cattaraugus County Department of Aging (CCDOA) in New York and the District of Columbia Children and Family Services Agency (DCCFSA).  OCR conducted investigations under the Actand Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which require that covered entities ensure effective communication for persons with disabilities.  Those actions resulted in the CCDOA voluntary resolution agreement, and the DCCFSA settlement agreement.

HHS Shares Language Access Resources

HHS views the availability of appropriate langauge accommodations as key to providing quality of care.  The effort includes persons facing not only disabilities impacting communications, but others with language barriers.  In support of its efforts to promote the availability and use of appropriate langauge accommodations, HSS recently shared its 2013 Language Access Plan (HHS LAP) for ensuring access to the Department’s programs and activities to people with limited English proficiency (LEP).  The LEP reflects HHS’ awareness that America’s population reflects diverse communications needs.  Nearly 20 percent of the population (55 million people) speaks a language other than English at home, 63 percent of hospitals treat LEP patients daily or weekly and more than 15 languages are frequently encountered by at least 20 percent of hospitals.   

In accordance with Executive Order 13166, Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency, the HHS LAP establishes the Department’s policy and strategy for serving persons with LEP and its commitment to the language access principals which state that people with LEP should have meaningful access to federally funded programs, activities, services and benefits.  The plan  available here urther serves as a blueprint for HHS Divisions to develop their own agency-specific language access plans. The HHS LAP is organized into ten cross-cutting elements with specific actions steps for HHS agencies to include in their respective agency-specific plans.  The ten elements include:

  • ELEMENT 1:   Assessment: Needs and Capacity
  • ELEMENT 2:   Oral Language Assistance Services
  • ELEMENT 3:   Written Translations
  • ELEMENT 4:   Policies and Procedures
  • ELEMENT 5:   Notification of the Availability of Language Assistance at no Cost
  • ELEMENT 6:   Staff Training
  • ELEMENT 7:   Assessment: Access and Quality
  • ELEMENT 8:   Stakeholder Consultation (New Element)
  • ELEMENT 9:   Digital Information (New Element)
  • ELEMENT 10: Grant Assurance and Compliance (New Element)

Hospitals and other health care providers should use these elements as guidelines for meeting the needs for language limited populations and patients, as well as to help structure the elements for assessment and accommodation of persons with disabilities impacting the abiity to communicate.

Enforcement Exposures Rising

The  settlement and Director Rodriguez’s statements should alert  health care providers and other public and private organizations of the need to strengthen their disability discrimination compliance and management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other agencies as well as private law suits.

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

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

Most health care and other U.S. businesses fully appreciate the growing disability discrimination exposures in employment but often are less aware of or ready to manage their responsibilities under the ADA public accommodation rules or other laws.

  • Employment Discrimination Under ADA

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

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

  • ADA Public Accommodation & Other Federal Discrimination

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

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

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

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

A growing list of ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement actions against private and public health care and housing providers, state and local governments and other businesses under the Obama Administration make it increasingly critical that health care organizations and other businesses manage disability discrimination risk both in their employment practices and their other business operations.

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

When considering these potential exposures, many private health care organizations mistakenly assume that OCR’s enforcement actions are mostly a problem for state and local government agencies because state and local agencies and service providers frequently in the past have been the target of OCR discrimination charges.  As demonstrated by the ADA exposures are high for both public and private providers, however.  OCR , the Department of Justice and other federal and state agencies can and do investigate and prosecute  a lot of public and private physicians, hospitals, insurers and other private health care and other federal program participants.  

Consequently, disability discrimination management requires more than employment discrimination management.  The Obama Administration also has trumpeted its commitment to the aggressive enforcement of the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws.  In June, 2012, for instance, President Obama himself made a point of reaffirming his administration’s “commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

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

Invest in Prevention To Minimize Liability Risks

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


OCR, FTC Enforcement & Guidance Signals Need To Tighten Mobile Device & Application Security

February 23, 2013

Thinking about or using mobile devices and applications in your heath care, health plan, or related operations or struggling to meet the demands of employees, patients, plan members or others to allow use of these tools?  Be sure that you’ve taken appropriate steps to design, implement and manage legal responsibilities and risks associated with the development and use of these tools.

While the popularity, accessibility and cost-effectiveness of mobile devices and applications provides a strong incentive for health plans, health care providers, their business associates, workforce members and customers to use mobile devices and applications, the use of these technologies and applications to collect, access, or use personal health care, financial, or other sensitive information presents special challenges and risks. Unfortunately, as the use of these tools proliferates, federal officials are increasingly concerned that the data security protections afforded by many of the devices and applications in use on these highly popular smart phone, tablet and other mobile devices and applications is highly lacking.  See FTC Settlement With Mobile Device & App Developer Shows Developers & Businesses Need To Manage Mobile App & Data Security.

As federal regulators and law enforcement responds to growing concerns about cyber security and other risks, heath care, health plan and other businesses, their employees, customers, and other business partners jumping on the mobile device and application bandwagon, health, application bandwagon, and the device and application developers developing and offering these tools must take appropriate steps to manage the personal health, financial, and other sensitive information and data that these tools use, create, access or disclose.

The Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) generally requires that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their businesses associates safeguard personal health care information or “PHI” and restrict its use, access and disclosure in accordance with the extensive and highly detailed requirements of the Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Regulations of the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

OCR’s collection of several multi-million dollar settlements as well as its statements in its recent restated HIPAA regulations and other OCR guidance make clear that OCR views HIPAA as imposing significant responsibilities upon covered entities and their business associates to safeguard and restrict access to PHI on mobile devices and applications. OCR’s Long-Anticipated Omnibus HIPAA Privacy, Security, Breach Notification & Enforcement Rule Tightens Privacy Requirements, Require Action;  Breaches resulting from the loss or theft of unencrypted ePHI on mobile or other computer devices or systems has been a common basis of investigation and sanctions since that time, particularly since the Breach Notification rules took effect.  OCR Pops Idaho Hospice In 1st HIPAA Breach Settlement Affecting < 500 Patients; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other Safeguards  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On WebsiteThese actions and statements of OCR provide a clear warning to HIPAA-covered entities and their business associates to expect significant consequences for failing to properly encrypt and safeguard ePHI used, accessed or disclosed on mobile devices and applications.

Of course, HIPAA shouldn’t be the only standard considered when health care providers, health plans or their business partners and vendors design and use mobile applications.  In addition to HIPAA’s requirements on PHI, health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, and their business partners also generally can expect that mobile devices and applications used in connection with their operations by patients, customers, employees or others also may use access, collect or disclose credit card, financial and a broad range of other sensitive information required to be protected under federal laws like the Fair & Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) or other Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Rules, state data security, data breach, identity theft or other privacy rules or both.  Depending on the nature of the data and the circumstances of the unanticipated use or disclosure, invasion of privacy or other common or statutory laws also may come into play.

With the use of these applications by consumers and business proliferates, Congress, OCR, the FTC, state regulators and others are upping the responsibilities and the liability of businesses that fail to appropriately consider and implement security in their mobile devices and applications.  Following on OCR’s restatement of its HIPAA regulations, the Obama Administration’s announcement of new cyber security initiatives, and a plethora of other federal and state regulatory and enforcement actions against businesses for data security missteps, the FTC recently launched a campaign to ensure that companies secure the software and devices mobile device and application providers provide consumers.

Earlier this month, the FTC introduced Mobile App Developers: Start with Security, a new business guide that encourages app developers to aim for reasonable data security.

On June 4, 2013, the FTC also plans to host a public forum on malware and other mobile security threats in order to examine the security of existing and developing mobile technologies and the roles that various members of the mobile ecosystem can play in protecting consumers.

Along side this educational outreach, the FTC also is moving to punish businesses that fail to act responsibly to protect sensitive data.  This trend is illustrated by the FTC’s announcement this week of its first settlement with a mobile device manufacturer. 

FTC Charges Against HTC America

This week, the FTC announced that mobile device giant HTC American, Inc.  will to settle FTC charges that the company failed to take reasonable steps to secure the software it developed for its smart phones and tablet computers and introduced security flaws that placed sensitive information about millions of consumers at risk.  

A leading mobile device manufacturer in the United States, HTC America develops and manufactures mobile devices based on the Android, Windows Mobile, and Windows Phone operating systems. HTC America has customized the software on these devices in order to differentiate itself from competitors and to comply with the requirements of mobile network operators.   

In its first-ever complaint against a mobile device or application developer, the FTC charged HTC America failed to incorporate and administer appropriate safeguards for personal financial and other sensitive data accessed and used in these applications when designing or customizing the software on its mobile devices. Among other things, the complaint alleged that HTC America failed to provide its engineering staff with adequate security training, failed to review or test the software on its mobile devices for potential security vulnerabilities, failed to follow well-known and commonly accepted secure coding practices, and failed to establish a process for receiving and addressing vulnerability reports from third parties.

To illustrate the consequences of these alleged failures, the FTC’s complaint details several vulnerabilities found on HTC America’s devices, including the insecure implementation of two logging applications – Carrier IQ and HTC Loggers – as well as programming flaws that would allow third-party applications to bypass Android’s permission-based security model.

Due to these vulnerabilities, the FTC charged, millions of HTC devices compromised sensitive device functionality, potentially permitting malicious applications to send text messages, record audio, and even install additional malware onto a consumer’s device, all without the user’s knowledge or consent. The FTC alleged that malware placed on consumers’ devices without their permission could be used to record and transmit information entered into or stored on the device, including, for example, financial account numbers and related access codes or medical information such as text messages received from healthcare providers and calendar entries about doctor’s appointments. In addition, malicious applications could exploit the vulnerabilities on HTC devices to gain unauthorized access to a variety of other sensitive information, such as the user’s geolocation information and the contents of the user’s text messages.

Moreover, the FTC complaint alleged that the user manuals for HTC Android-based devices contained deceptive representations, and that the user interface for the company’s Tell HTC application was also deceptive. In both cases, the security vulnerabilities in HTC Android-based devices undermined consent mechanisms that would have otherwise prevented unauthorized access or transmission of sensitive information.

HTC America Settlement

The settlement not only requires the establishment of a comprehensive security program, but also prohibits HTC America from making any false or misleading statements about the security and privacy of consumers’ data on HTC devices. Under the settlement agreement, HTC American must:

  • Fix vulnerabilities found in millions of HTC devices;
  • Establish a comprehensive security program designed to address security risks during the development of HTC devices; and
  • Undergo independent security assessments every other year for the next 20 years.

HTC America and its network operator partners are also in the process of deploying the security patches required by the settlement to consumers’ devices. Many consumers have already received the required security updates. The FTC is encouraging consumers using HTC America applications to apply the updates as soon as possible.

The FTC Commission vote to accept the consent agreement package containing the proposed consent order for public comment was 3-0-2, with Chairman Jon Leibowitz not participating and Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen recused. The FTC will publish a description of the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly.

In accordance with FTC procedures, the settlement agreement will be subject to public comment through March 22, after which the Commission will decide whether to make the proposed consent order final. Interested parties can submit comments electronically or in paper form using instructions in the “Invitation To Comment” part of the “Supplementary Information” section. Comments in paper form should be mailed or delivered to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form near the end of the public comment period be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions.

Act To Manage Mobile Application Device & Security

Given the expanding awareness, expectations and enforcement of OCR, FTC and others, health care, health plan and other industry participants deciding whether and when to use, or allow others to use mobile devices or applications to access data or carry out other activities and the mobile device or other technology developers and providers offering products or services to these organizations must get serious about security. 

These and other related activities send a clear message that health care, health insurance mobile device and application users and developers must incorporate and administer appropriate processes and safeguards to protect PHI, personal financial and other sensitive data.  In response to these developments, industry mobile device and application developers and the health care, health insurance and other businesses must consider carefully before deploying or allowing others to deploy or use these tools in relation to data within their operations or systems.  Before and when using or permitting customers, business partners, employees or others to use tools, these organizations must ensure the adequacy of the design and security safeguards for their devices, software and applications, as well as their disclaimers and associated consumer disclosures and consents.  Because of the special legal and operational expectations for these organizations, health care, health insurance and other industry provides must resist pressure to allow the use of these tools unless and until they can verify that these legal and operational requisites are fulfilled.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

If you found this article of interest, you also may be interested in other recent Solutions Law Press, Inc. articles by Ms. Stamer including:

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


New Children’s Electronic Health Record Format Shared

February 7, 2013

The Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) hopes a new electronic health record (EHR) format for documenting medical care for children developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)with support from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will help developers create better EHRs for use by health care providers caring for children.

According to AHRQ, the children’s EHR format establishes a” blueprint” for EHRs to better meet the needs of health care providers and pediatric patients by combining what CMS and AHRQ consider the “best-practices in clinical care, information technology, and insights from experts in children’s health.”  Developed to address commonly occuring problems in functionality, data elements and other challenges arising when traditional EHRs have been used to document pediatric care,  AHRQ hopes the new format will guides EHR developers in understanding the requirements for functionality, data standards, usability and interoperability of an EHR system to more optimally support the provision of health care to children – especially those enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as provide guidance for EHR system purchasers and policy makers in assessing functionality of EHRs. For more information or to access the format,  see here.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

If you found this article of interest, you also may be interested in other recent Solutions Law Press, Inc. articles by Ms. Stamer including:

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


Justice Department Disability Discrimination With Pain Clinic Shows Provider ADA Exposures

January 31, 2013

Hospitals, health care clinics, physicians and other health care providers should heed the settlement announced by the Justice Department announced today (January 31, 2013) with the Fayetteville Pain Center as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that their organizations can prove their care and other operations fulfill the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) nondiscrimination and accommodation requirements. 

The public accommodation provisions of the ADA generally require those doctors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and other health care providers, as well as other covered businesses to provide people with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to goods, services, and facilities.  The ADA also may compel health care providers to adjust their practices for delivering care and/or providing access to facilities to accommodate special needs of disabled individuals under certain circumstances.

The Fayetteville Pain Center settlement arose as part of the Justice Department’s ADA enforcement effort as part of its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  The settlement resolves allegations that the Fayetteville Pain Center violated the ADA by refusing to treat a woman because she has HIV.

The complainant, a woman with HIV who was suffering from back pain as a result of a car accident, visited the Fayetteville Pain Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina seeking treatment. According to the complaint, the woman was unable to get medical treatment because the doctor at the Fayetteville Pain Center refused to treat a person with HIV. 

Under the settlement, the Fayetteville Pain Center must pay $10,000 to the complainant and $5,000 to the United States in civil penalties, train its staff on the ADA, and develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy.  To read more about the Settlement, see here.

Enforcement Exposures Rising

The Justice Department’s Fayetteville Pain Center prosecution and settlement should remind health care providers and other public and private organizations of the need to strengthen their disability discrimination compliance and management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other agencies as well as private law suits.

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

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

Most health care and other U.S. businesses fully appreciate the growing disability discrimination exposures in employment but often are less aware of or ready to manage their responsibilities under the ADA public accommodation rules or other laws.

  • Employment Discrimination Under ADA

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

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

  • ADA Public Accommodation & Other Federal Discrimination

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

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

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

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

A growing list of ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement actions against private and public health care and housing providers, state and local governments and other businesses under the Obama Administration make it increasingly critical that health care organizations and other businesses manage disability discrimination risk both in their employment practices and their other business operations.

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

When considering these potential exposures, many private health care organizations mistakenly assume that OCR’s enforcement actions are mostly a problem for state and local government agencies because state and local agencies and service providers frequently in the past have been the target of OCR discrimination charges.  As demonstrated by the ADA exposures are high for both public and private providers, however.  OCR , the Department of Justice and other federal and state agencies can and do investigate and prosecute  a wide variety of public and private physicians, hospitals, insurers and other private health care and other federal program participants.  

Consequently, disability discrimination management requires more than employment discrimination management.  The Obama Administration also has trumpeted its commitment to the aggressive enforcement of the public accommodation provisions of the ADA and other federal disability discrimination laws.  In June, 2012, for instance, President Obama himself made a point of reaffirming his administration’s “commitment to fighting discrimination, and to addressing the needs and concerns of those living with disabilities.”

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

Invest in Prevention To Minimize Liability Risks

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

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

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

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

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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


OCR’s Long-Anticipated Omnibus HIPAA Privacy, Security, Breach Notification & Enforcement Rule Tightens Privacy Requirements, Require Action

January 17, 2013

Health care providers and their business associates have work to do.  Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates will need to review and update their  policies and practices for handling and disclosing personally identifiable health care information (“PHI”) in response to the omnibus restatement of the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) of its of its regulations (the “2013 Regulations”) implementing the Privacy and Security Rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  The Rulemaking announced January 17, 2013 may be viewed here.

Since 2003, HIPAA generally has required that health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their business associates (“Covered Entities”) restrict and safeguard individually identifiable  health care information (“PHI”) of individuals and afford other protections to individuals that are the subject of that information.  The 2013 Regulations published today complete the implementation of changes to HIPAA that Congress enacted when it passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009 as well as make other changes to the prior regulations that OCR found desirable based on its experience administering and enforcing the law over the past decade.

Since passage of the HITECH Act, OCR officials have warned Covered Entities to expect an omnibus restatement of its original regulations.  While OCR had issued certain regulations implementing some of the HITECH Act changes, it waited to publish certain regulations necessary to implement other HITECH Act changes until it could complete a more comprehensive restatement of its previously published HIPAA regulations to reflect both the HITECH Act amendments and other refinements to  its HIPAA Rules. The 2013 Regulations published today fulfill  that promise by restating OCR’s HIPAA Regulations to reflect the HITECH Act Amendments and other changes and clarifications to OCR’s interpretation and enforcement of HIPAA.

Among other things, the 2013 Regulations:

  • Revise OCR’s HIPAA regulations to reflect the HITECH Act’s amendment of HIPAA to add the contractors and subcontractors of health plans, health care providers and health care clearinghouses that qualify as business associates to the parties directly responsible for complying with and subject to HIPAA’s civil and criminal penalties for violating HIPAA’s Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification rules;
  • Update previous interim regulations implementing HITECH Act breach notification rules that require Covered Entities including business associates to give specific notifications to individuals whose PHI is breached, HHS and in some cases, the media when a breach of unsecured information happens;
  • Update interim enforcement guidance OCR previously published to implement increased penalties and other changes to HIPAA’s civil and criminal sanctions enacted by the HITECH Act;
  • Implement HITECH Act amendments to HIPAA that tighten the conditions under which Covered Entities are allowed to use or disclose PHI for marketing and fundraising purposes and prohibit Covered Entities from selling an individual’s health information without getting the individual’s authorization in the manner required by the 2013 Regulations;
  • Update OCR’s rules about the individual rights that HIPAA requires that Covered Entities to afford to individuals who are the subject of PHI used or possessed by a Covered Entity to reflect tightened requirements enacted by the HITECH Act  that allow individuals to order their health care provider not to share information about their treatment with health plans when the individual pays cash for the care and to clarify that individuals can require Covered Entities to provide electronic PHI in electronic form;
  • Revise the regulations to reflect amendments to HIPAA made as part of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) which added genetic information to the definition of PHI protected under the HIPAA Privacy Rule and prohibits health plans from using or disclosing genetic information for underwriting purposes; and
  • Clarifies and revises other provisions to reflect other interpretations and information guidance that OCR has issued since HIPAA was passed and to make certain other changes that OCR found appropriate based on its experience administering and enforcing the rules. 

Enforcement Risks Signal Neeed To  Review & Update Policies & Practices Promptly

The restated rules in the 2013 Regulations make it imperative that Covered Entities review the revised rules carefully and updated their policies, practices, business associate agreements, training and documentation to comply with the updated requirements and other enforcement and liability risks.  OCR even prior to the regulations has aggressively investigated and enforced the HIPAA requirements.  

The commitment of OCR to enforcement most recently was demonstrated by its recent settlement with Hospice of North Idaho (HONI).  On January 2, 2013, OCR announced HONI will pay OCR $50,000 to settle potential HIPAA violations that occurred in connection with the theft of an unencrypted laptop computer containing ePHI. The HONI settlement is the first settlement involving a breach of ePHI affecting fewer than 500 individuals. 

While the HONI settlement marks the first settlement on a small breach, this is not the first time OCR has sought sanctions against a covered entity for data breaches involving the loss or theft of unencrypted data on a Laptop, storage device or other computer device.  Rather, OCR continues to rollout a growing list of enforcement actions demonstrating the potential risks of HIPAA violations are significant and growing.  OCR Hits Alaska Medicaid For $1.7M+ For HIPAA Security Breach; OCR Audit Program Kickoff Further Heats HIPAA Privacy Risks$1.5 Million HIPAA Settlement Reached To Resolve 1st OCR Enforcement Action Prompted By HITECH Act Breach Report; HIPAA Heats Up: HITECH Act Changes Take Effect & OCR Begins Posting Names, Other Details Of Unsecured PHI Breach Reports On Website; Providence To Pay $100000 & Implement Other Safeguards.

Coupled with statements by OCR about its intolerance, the HONI and other settlements provide a strong warning to covered entities of the need to carefully and appropriately manage their HIPAA encryption and other Privacy and Security responsibilities. Covered entities are urged to heed these warning by strengthening their HIPAA compliance and adopting other suitable safeguards to minimize HIPAA exposures. 

In response to the 2013 Regulations and these expanding exposures, all Covered Entities should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses; and other developments to decide if additional steps are necessary or advisable.   In response to these expanding exposures, all covered entities and their business associates should review critically and carefully the adequacy of their current HIPAA Privacy and Security compliance policies, monitoring, training, breach notification and other practices taking into consideration OCR’s investigation and enforcement actions, emerging litigation and other enforcement data; their own and reports of other security and privacy breaches and near misses, and other developments to decide if tightening their policies, practices, documentation or training is necessary or advisable.

For Help With Compliance, Risk Management, Investigations, Policy Updates Or Other Needs

If you need help with HIPAA or other health industry, regulatory policy or enforcement developments, or to review or respond to these or other health care or health IT related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer may be able to help.

Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and assisting health care providers, health plans, their business associates and other health industry clients to establish and administer medical privacy and other compliance and risk management policies, to health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns. She regularly designs and presents HIPAA and other risk management, compliance and other training for health plans, employers, health care providers, professional associations and others.

Scheduled to serve as the scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits agency meeting with OCR, Ms. Stamer also regularly works with OCR and other agencies, publishes and speaks extensively on medical and other privacy and data security, health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns.  Her publications and insights appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.   For instance, Ms. Stamer for the second year will serve as the appointed scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Agency meeting with OCR.  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, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.  You can get more information about her HIPAA and other experience here.

If you need help with these or other compliance concerns, wish to ask about arranging for compliance audit or training, or need legal representation on other matters please contact Ms. Stamer at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

You can review other recent publications and resources and additional information about the other experience of Ms. Stamer hereExamples of some recent publications that may be of interest include: