CME Credit Offered For Providers Completing Online Replay Of 4/16 CDC Training On Certifying COVID-19 Deaths

April 16, 2020

Healthcare providers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) can get continuing education credit for completing free heath care provider training available online on “Guidance for Certifying Deaths Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” originally presented by CDC live on April 16, 2020.

In addition to providing training about proper classification of COVID-19 related deaths on death certificates, health care providers participating in the call may qualify for continuing education credit.

About CDC’s 4/16 COVID-19 Death Reporting Training

The training covers updated rules on completing death certificates for patients believed to have died when infected with COVID-19 published April 2. Monitoring the emergence of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and guiding public health response requires accurate and timely mortality data. As death certificates are one of the few sources of health-related data that are comparable for small geographic areas and are available over a long time period in the United States, mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) derived from information reported on death certificates to monitor deaths due to COVID-19 versus other causes of death.

During this COCA Call, the following presenters from the CDC provide an overview of the importance of mortality data, discuss the NCHS publication and the guidance it provides to clinicians who may need to certify a death involving COVID-19, and present a summary of COVID-19 surveillance through the NVSS.

  • Robert N. Anderson, PhD, Chief, Mortality Statistics Branch, National Center for  Health Statistics;
  • Margaret Warner, PhD,  Injury Epidemiologist, National Center for Health Statistics;
  • Lee Anne Flagg, PhD, Statistician (Health), National Center for Health Statistics; and
  • Farida Ahmad, MPH, Mortality Surveillance Lead, National Center for Health Statistics.

An advance copy of the program Slides is currently available on the CDC website and CDC plans to post a transcript of the program following the presentation.

Continuing Education Credit 

Health care providers participating in today’s training may be able to qualify for continuing education credit.  CDC says that health care providers wishing to receive continuing education for participation should complete the online between May 19, 2020, and May 19, 2022, and use course code WD2922. The access code is COCA041620. Continuing education certificates can be printed immediately upon completion of your online evaluation. A cumulative transcript of all CDC/ATSDR CEs obtained through the CDC Training & Continuing Education Online System will be maintained for each user.

Interested providers and others can learn mre at this CDC Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) here.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. In addition to this update, the author of this article also is extensively published and frequent speaker on HIPAA and other medical privacy and security, pandemic and other infectious disease, and other health industry crisis preparedness and response, regulatory compliance, risk management and operations, public policy and other concerns. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

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

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, and a Fellow in the American Bar Foundation, the Texas Bar Foundation and the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her career long  pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership  domestic and international, public and private sector health care and managed care, workforce and employee benefits, insurance and financial services, their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors, and governments 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 facilities; physicians, medical staff and other health care providers and organizations; creditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations;  health care management and technology and other health and managed care industry clients; self-insured and insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, insurers and service providers, and other payers; employers; billing, utilization management, quality, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


4/15 ONC Briefing Covers New Health IT Funding Opportunities

April 14, 2020

Working or interested in working on the development and testing of data sharing functionalities to support clinical care, research, and improved health care outcomes?  Listen in tomorrow (April 15, 2020) at 1:30 p.m. Eastern, 12:30 p.m. Central time to an informational briefing about newly announced funding opportunities issued by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology under its Leading Edge Acceleration Projects (LEAP) in Health Information Technology (Health IT)  whose specific aims address one of the following areas:

  • Advancing Registry Infrastructure for a Modern API-based Health IT Ecosystem

  • Cutting Edge Health IT Tools for Scaling Research
  • Integrating Health Care and Human Services Data to Support Improved Outcomes

The new funding opportunities are part of efforts to promote the interoperability of heath care data to enhance health care quality and affordability that continues to be a top ONC priority since ONC released its 2018 Report to Congress: Annual Update on the Adoption of a Nationwide System for the Electronic Use and Exchange of Health Information (“Report”).

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

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

The Report describes barriers, actions taken, and recommendations as well as ONC’s path forward to implement the 21st Century Cures Act and  to increase nationwide interoperability of health information and reduce clinician burden.

ONC’s resulting emphasis on health data interoperability  raises new business and compliance planning opportunities and challenges for health care providers, health insurers and other payers, health data and information technology (IT) providers and others.    The new funding opportunities are intended to produce new capabilities for achieving these objectives.

For more information, visit LEAP in Health IT.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. In addition to this update, the author of this article also is extensively published and frequent speaker on HIPAA and other medical privacy and security, pandemic and other infectious disease, and other health industry crisis preparedness and response, regulatory compliance, risk management and operations, public policy and other concerns. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


OCR Adds HIPAA Privacy Rule Enforcement Relief For Community-Based COVID-19 Testing Sites; Updated HIPAA Risk Assessments Advisable For COVID-19 Impacted Operational Changes

April 9, 2020

All Health Care Providers & Business Associates Reminded To Conduct Documented Risk Assessments In Response To COVID-19 Operational Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. In addition to this update, the author of this article also is extensively published and frequent speaker on HIPAA and other medical privacy and security, pandemic and other infectious disease, and other health industry crisis preparedness and response, regulatory compliance, risk management and operations, public policy and other concerns. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

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

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

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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


$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.

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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.

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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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

December 29, 2017

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

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

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

 21CO HIPAA Breaches & Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insurer Funding $2.3 Million Settlement Payment For Bankrupt 21CO

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

Settlements Highlight Growing Risks Of Noncompliance, Lack Data Security

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


HHS Picks Hargan As Acting HHS Secretary

October 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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


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

October 9, 2017

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

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

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

Privacy Rule Generally

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also Compliance Guidance and Enforcement Statement.

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

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

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

In addition, the Announcement also reminds Covered Entities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit health care providers to disclose PHI to media personnel, including film crews, without having previously obtained a HIPAA-compliant authorization signed by the patient or his or her personal representative. In other words, health care providers may not allow members of the media, including film crews, into treatment areas of their facilities or other areas where PHI will be accessible in written, electronic, oral or other visual or audio form, without prior authorization from the patients who are or will be in the area or whose PHI will be accessible to the media.  It is not sufficient for a health care provider to request or require media personnel to mask the identities of patients (using techniques such as blurring, pixilation, or voice alteration software) for whom an authorization was not obtained, because the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not allow media access to the patients’ PHI, absent an authorization, in the first place.

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

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

  • A Covered Entity may disclose limited PHI about an unidentified incapacitated patient to the media seek to have the media help identify or locate the family of an unidentified and incapacitated patient in its care if, in the hospital’s professional judgment, doing so is in the patient’s best interest.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.510(b)(1)(ii);
  • A Covered Entity may disclose a patient’s location in the facility and condition in general terms that do not communicate specific medical information about the individual to any person, including the media, without obtaining a HIPAA authorization where the individual has not objected to his information being included in the facility directory, and the media representative or other person asks for the individual by name.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.510(a);
  • The HIPAA Privacy Rule does not require health care providers to prevent members of the media from entering areas of their facilities that are otherwise generally accessible to the public, which may include public waiting areas or areas where the public enters or exits the facility;
  • A health care provider may utilize the services of a contract film crew to produce training videos or public relations materials on the provider’s behalf if certain protections are in place.  If patients are to be identified by the provider and interviewed by a film crew, or if PHI might be accessible during filming or otherwise disclosed, the provider must enter into a HIPAA business associate agreement with the film crew acting as a business associate.  Among other requirements, the business associate agreement must ensure that the film crew will safeguard the PHI it obtains, only use or disclose the PHI for the purposes provided in the agreement, and return or destroy any PHI after the work for the health care provider has been completed.  See 45 C.F.R. 164.504(e)(2).  As a business associate, the film crew must comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and a number of provisions in the Privacy Rule, including the Rule’s restrictions on the use and disclosure of PHI.  In addition, authorizations from patients whose PHI is included in any materials would be required before such materials are posted online, printed in brochures for the public, or otherwise publicly disseminated; and
  • Covered Entities can continue to inform the media of their treatment services and programs so that the media can better inform the public, provided that, in doing so, the Covered Entity does not share PHI with the media without the prior authorization of the individuals who are the subject of the PHI.

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

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

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

  • Minimum Necessary Requirements & Other Privacy Rule Responsibility Reminders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About The Author

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

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

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] August 2017 Hurricane Harvey Bulletin.

[4] September 2017 Hurricane Irma Bulletin.

[5] September 2017 Hurricane Maria Bulletin

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

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

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

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

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


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.


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

April 24, 2017

Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and business associates must get and keep their business associate (BA) agreements (BAAs) in place, up- to-date, and readily available for inspection in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, 45 C.F.R. Part 160 and Subparts A and E of Part 164 (Privacy Rule).  That’s the clear message physician practices and other health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities”) and their business associates should learn about Privacy Rule compliance from an April 17, 2017 HIPAA Resolution Agreement just announced by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) with the Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH).

While the Resolution Agreement relates to breaches of the BAA requirements of a small pediatric practice, the  Center for Children’s Digestive Health (CCDH), all health plans, health care providers and other covered entities and business associates should focus on the adequacy of their BAAs  and their BAA recordkeeping.  HIPAA compliance surveys reflect deficiencies with the BAA rules are common throughout the industry.  These findings and the involvement of BAs in data breaches or other OCR enforcement activities suggest a high probability that many other covered entities and business associates may be sitting ducks for similar sanctions.  See e.g., HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).

The HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Requirements

OCR’s announcement of the CCDH Resolution Agreement is the latest in a growing series of HIPAA enforcement actions showing the growing risk covered entities and their business associates face for failing to take appropriate steps to comply with the BAA and other Privacy Rule requirements of HIPAA.

As compliance audits and surveys of covered entities and business associates suggest a high level of noncompliance with the business associate agreement requirements among covered entities and business associates, While the ever-growing list of Resolution Agreements and Civil Monetary Penalties announced by OCR cover a variety of categories of HIPAA violations, the CCDH Resolution Agreement highlights the importance of covered entities and their business associates ensuring that before the BA creates, accesses, receives, discloses, retains or destroys any PHI for the covered entity,  a BAA meeting the Privacy Rule requirements is signed and retained for at least the six year period the Privacy Rule requires in a manner easily producible when and if OCR or another agency asks for a copy as part of an investigation or other compliance audit.  See Privacy Rule §§ 164.502(e), 164.504(e), 164.532(d) and (e).

The Privacy Rule requires that covered entities and business associates 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. Meanwhile, the Privacy Rule recordkeeping requirements require that covered entities and BAs maintain copies of these BAAs for a minimum of six years.

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).

Under Section 1177, 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.

In contrast, 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.

While criminal enforcement of HIPAA remains relatively rare, a review of the OCR enforcement record in recent years makes clear that civil enforcement of HIPAA and the sanctions imposed is growing. See e.g.,  $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.

CCDH Sanctions For Violation Of HIPAA Business Associate Agreement Rules

The CCDH Resolution Agreement arises from violations of this requirement that OCR says it discovered as a result of a compliance review conducted in response to an OCR investigation of a CCDH business associate, FileFax, Inc.  According to OCR, OCR found from the compliance review of CCDH triggered by OCR’s investigation of FileFax that while CCDH began disclosing PHI to Filefax in 2003 and that Filefax stored records containing protected health information (PHI) for CCDH, neither CCDH nor Filefax could produce a signed Business Associate Agreement (BAA) covering their relationship for any period before October 12, 2015.

Based on the resulting investigation,  OCR concluded:

  • CCDH failed to obtain a BAA providing written assurances from Filefax that it would appropriately safeguard the PHI in Filefax’s possession or control satisfactory assurances as required by Privacy Rule §164.502(e); and
  • Because CCDH failed to secure the required BAA, it violated the Privacy Rule by impermissibly disclosing the PHI of at least 10,728 individuals to Filefax when CCDH transferred the PHI to Filefax without obtaining the requisite BAA from Filefax (Covered Conduct).

In the Resolution Agreement, CCDH agrees to pay HHS $31,000.00 (Resolution Amount) and enter into and comply with a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) in return for OCR’s release of CCDH from liability for “any actions it may have against CCDH under the HIPAA Rules” for the Covered Conduct.  The Resolution Agreement only settles the civil monetary penalty and other OCR enforcement liabilities of CCDH with respect to the Covered Conduct.  Its provisions expressly state the Resolution Agreement does not affect any exposures of CCDH to CCDH to OCR civil monetary penalties or other enforcement for any HIPAA violations other than the Covered Conduct.

Perhaps even more noteworthy given the HITECH Act’s provisions coordinating the civil and criminal sanctions of HIPAA, while  the Resolution Agreement provides no clear indication that the Justice Department might be considering criminally prosecuting CCDH or any other party in relation to the Covered Conduct, the Resolution Agreement also expressly states that its provisions do not affect CCDH’s potential exposure, if any, to criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for a criminal violation of the Privacy Rules under Section 1177 of the Social Security Act.

Implications For Covered Entities & Business Associates

Covered entities and their business associates should heed the CCDH Resolution Agreement as a strong message from OCR to ensure their organizations are complying with HIPAA’s BAA and other requirements.  The Resolution Agreement makes clear that the starting point of this compliance effort must be obtaining and maintaining the requisite BAAs for each BA relationship.

To position their organizations to withstand potential investigation by OCR, covered entities and BAs should start by conducting a well-documented audit within the scope of attorney-client privilege both to verify that an appropriate, signed BAA is in place for each BA relationship as well as adequacy of processes for identifying business associate relationships, ensuring that signed BAAs are in effect before BAs access any PHI, and for investigating, reporting and resolving any breaches of the HIPAA Privacy or Security Rules that may arise in the course of operations.

Conducting this audit as soon as possible is particularly important in light of reported findings of widespread compliance concerns. See HIPAA Compliance Survey Churns Up Many Business Associate Problems (January 3, 2017).  As the audit process could identify potential violations or other legally sensitive concerns,  covered entities and business associates generally will want to arrange for this audit and evaluation to be conducted under the supervision of legal counsel experienced with HIPAA within or pursuant to processes structured with the assistance of legal counsel within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

Beyond confirming all necessary BAAs are in place, covered entities and business associates also generally will want to evaluate the adequacy of BAs’ processes and procedures for maintaining compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules as well as processes and procedures for responding to audits, investigations and complaints, reporting and addressing breaches of electronic and other PHI and other possible compliance concerns under HIPAA and other related laws.  In many instances, parties may n wish to revise and strengthen existing BAAs to more specifically define these policies and procedures more specifically as well as indemnification, cyber or other liability coverage requirements and other contractual provisions for allocating potential costs and liabilities arising from breaches, audits, investigations and other expenses associated with the administration of these provisions.

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 laws.

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.

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 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.

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.

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©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.


$5.5M Memorial HIPAA Resolution Agreement Shows Need To Audit

February 16, 2017

Memorial Healthcare Systems (MHS) has paid the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $5.5 million to settle potential violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules. The nonprofit corporation which operates six hospitals, an urgent care center, a nursing home, and a variety of ancillary health care facilities throughout the South Florida area with affiliated physician offices through an Organized Health Care Arrangement (OHCA) also agreed to implement a robust corrective action plan as part of the Resolution Agreement.

The MHS Resolution sends a strong message to all health care providers, health plans health care clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates that simply adopting HIPAA policies alone is insufficient to avoid getting nailed by OCR under HIPAA;  Covered Entities and their business associates also must implement, audit and enforce those policies.

The MHS Resolution Agreement resulted from an investigation initiated by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) after  MHS reported to OCR that protected health information (PHI) of 115,143 individuals had been impermissibly accessed by its employees and impermissibly disclosed to affiliated physician office staff. This information consisted of the affected individuals’ names, dates of birth, and social security numbers. The login credentials of a former employee of an affiliated physician’s office had been used to access the ePHI maintained by MHS on a daily basis without detection from April 2011 to April 2012, affecting 80,000 individuals. 

The investigation revealed that although MHS had workforce access policies and procedures in place, MHS failed to implement procedures with respect to reviewing, modifying and/or terminating users’ right of access, as required by the HIPAA Rules. Further, MHS failed to regularly review records of information system activity on applications that maintain electronic protected health information by workforce users and users at affiliated physician practices, despite having identified this risk on several risk analyses conducted by MHS from 2007 to 2012.

MHS’ failure to follow through to implement the controls required by its policies and audit and enforce compliance with HIPAA and its HIPAA policies was a costly mistake.  Other Covered Entities should heed MHS’ painful lesson and take documented steps to ensure its HIPAA policies not only are adopted, but also implemented and monitored and audited for compliance.


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.™

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

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

©2017 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  All other rights reserved.


$2.7M OCR Settlement Warns HIPAA Covered Entities To Clean Up Compliance

October 28, 2016

A new settlement agreement requiring Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) to pay $2.7 million and implement a comprehensive three-year corrective action plan to resolve charges it violated the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act Privacy & Security Rules (HIPAA) sends a clear warning to other health care providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates to encrypt devices with protected health information (PHI), have signed HIPAA-compliant business associate agreement in place before letting them access PHI and otherwise keep your HIPAA enterprise risk assessment and compliance up-to-date.

OHSU Charges

The OHSU settlement announced September 23 settled Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) charges of multiple, long-standing, systematic HIPAA violations by OHSU uncovered by OCR as a result of investigations initiated in response to three reports of large-scale breaches of electronic protected health information (ePHI) made by OHSU.

OCR opened its HIPAA investigations at OHSU after the large public academic health center and research university centered in Portland, Oregon, submitted three HIPAA breach reports affecting thousands of individuals, including two reports involving unencrypted laptops and another large breach involving a stolen unencrypted thumb drive:

  • On March 23, 2013, HHS received notification from OHSU regarding a breach of its unsecured electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) resulting from a stolen laptop computer;
  • On July 28, 2013, HHS received notification from OHSU regarding a breach of its ePHI resulting from storing ePHI at an internet-based service provider without a business associate agreement; and.
  • On May I, 2013, and on November 8, 2013, HHS notified OHSU of its investigations of these breach incidents, respectively, regarding OHSU’s compliance with the HIPAA Rules.

These incidents each garnered significant local and national press coverage. OCR’s investigation uncovered evidence of widespread vulnerabilities within OHSU’s HIPAA compliance program, including the storage of the ePHI of more than 3,000 individuals on a cloud-based server without a business associate agreement.  OCR found significant risk of harm to 1,361 of these individuals due to the sensitive nature of their diagnoses.

OCR found the reported breaches resulted from widespread, long-term, systematic and unresolved HIPAA violations by OHSU that OCR attributed to an inadequate commitment to and oversight of HIPAA compliance by OHSU C-level management which lead OHSU to fail to appropriately monitor and maintain its ongoing compliance and to assess and address changes in its enterprise-wide risk and compliance obligations on an ongoing basis. OHSU performed risk analyses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2013, but OCR’s investigation found that these analyses did not cover all ePHI in OHSU’s enterprise, as required by the Security Rule.  While the analyses identified vulnerabilities and risks to ePHI located in many areas of the organization, OHSU did not act in a timely manner to implement measures to address these documented risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level. OHSU also lacked policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations and failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure for ePHI maintained on its workstations, despite having identified this lack of encryption as a risk.

Based on these findings, OCR concluded that while OHSU initially adopted HIPAA Policies, the reported breaches were the result of a series of widespread and ongoing breaches of HIPAA resulted including the following:

  • From January 5, 2011, until July 3, 2013, OHSU disclosed the ePHI of 3,044 individuals in violation of Privacy Rules §§160.103 and 164.502(a) when workforce members disclosed the ePHI to a third-party internet-based service provider without obtaining a business associate agreement or other satisfactory assurance that the internet-based service provider would safeguard the ePHI;
  • From January 5, 2011 until July 3, 2013 OHSU failed to obtain a business associate agreement from an internet-based service provider that was storing ePHI on its behalf as a business associate as required by 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(b);
  • From January 5, 2011 until July 3, 2013 OHSU failed to implement policies and procedures to prevent, detect, contain, and correct security violations as required under Privacy Rule § 164.308(a)(1)(i);
  • From July 12, 2010 to present, OHSU failed to implement a mechanism to encrypt and decrypt ePHI or an equivalent alternative measure for all ePHI maintained in OHSU’s enterprise as required by Privacy Rules §§ 164.312(a)(2)(iv) and 164.306(d)(3)); and
  • From May 29, 2013 until July 3, 2013, OHSU failed to implement policies and procedures to address security incidents in violation of Privacy Rule § 164.308(a)(6)(i).

According to statements made by OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels in OCR’s announcement of the OHSU Settlement, the breaches should not have happened.  “From well-publicized large-scale breaches and findings in their own risk analyses, OHSU had every opportunity to address security management processes that were insufficient,” said OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels.  OCR’s announcement also signals that OCR views inadequate commitment and oversight by OHSU’s senior management to have played a key role in the creation and perpetuation of the OHSU violations.  It quotes OCR Director Jocelyn Samuels  as stating,  “This settlement underscores the importance of leadership engagement and why it is so critical for the C-suite to take HIPAA compliance seriously.”

To resolve the HIPAA charges, the OHSU Settlement requires OHSU to pay OCR $2,700,000 as well as take a long series of corrective actions detailed in the Corrective Action Plan incorporated into the Settlement Agreement.  The requirements of the Corrective Action Plan both seek to address the specific weaknesses that lead to the breaches of unsecured ePHI reported by OHSU in its breach notifications as well as the broader deficiencies in OHSU’s overall HIPAA compliance practice by requiring among other things that OHSU:

  • Conduct an accurate and thorough assessment of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI at all OHSU facilities and on all systems, networks, and devices that create, receive, maintain, or transmit ePHI;.
  • Develop and present to OCR for approval a comprehensive written risk managementh plan that explains OHSU’s strategy for implementing security measures sufficient to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities identified in the risk analysis to a reasonable and appropriate level based on OHSU’s circumstances as well as a comprehensive, enterprise-wide plan to implement effective oversight of OHSU workforce members to ensure their adherence to HIPAA Rules and OHSU’s internal privacy and security policies and procedures with specific timelines for their expected completion and compensating controls identified in the interim to safeguard OHSU’s ePHI;
  • Implement and administer the written risk management plan and other safeguards as approved by OCR;
  • Provide updates to OCR about OHSU’s implementation of required encryption including a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution that ensures all OHSU- owned and personally-owned mobile devices (tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices) that access ePHI on OHSU’s secure network are encrypted other than mobile devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions based on documented evidence of the implementation of alternative reasonable compensating controls to protect the ePHI on such devices;
  • Report to OCR on OHSU’s efforts to a solution to enforce encryption of ePHI on OHSU-owned and personally-owned devices (laptops, desktops, and medical equipment) connecting to OHSU’s secure wired and wireless networks except for any devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions to the encryption requirement;
  • Report to OCR about its implementation of policies that prohibit the transfer of data containing ePHI from OHSU-owned and personally-owned devices to unencrypted removable storage devices (USB drives and portable hard drives) and implementation of a technical solution that enforces the policies prohibiting transfers of this type when attached to the OHSU secure network, except for any removable storage devices for which OHSU has granted exceptions based on documented evidence of reasonable compensating controls that have been implemented to protect the ePHI on such devices;
  • Send a communication to all members of the OHSU community describing its commitment to enterprise encryption;
  • Prepare to the satisfaction of OCR security awareness training materials needed to implement its security management processing including specific privacy and security awareness related to a) use of internet-based information storage services; b) disclosures to third-party entities that require a business associate agreement or other reasonable assurance in place to ensure that the business associate will safeguard the protected health information (PHI) and/or ePHI; c) regarding managers, effective oversight of workforce members’ uses and disclosures of PHI, including ePHI, to ensure the workforce members’ compliance with the Privacy and Security Rules and OHSU’s internal policies and procedures; d) security incident reporting; and e) password management;
  • Initially train all workforce members with access to PHI and/or ePHI with 120 days of OCR’s approval of the training and thereafter ensure that new workforce members are trained with 15 days of hire and that all workforce members subsequently continue to receive training on an ongoing basis
  • Review the security awareness training materials annually, and, where appropriate, update the training to reflect changes in Federal law or HHS guidance, any issues discovered during audits or reviews, and any other relevant developments.
  • Management oversight and reporting to OCR concerning OHSU’s implementation and compliance with the Corrective Action Plan and HIPAA.

OHSU Lessons For Other Covered Entities & Business Associates & Their Management

The OHSU Settlement Agreement gives notice to all Covered Entities and business associates and their C-level management that OCR expects these organizations and their top management to get serious about HIPAA compliance. The OHSU Settlement shows Covered Entities and their business associates that they must constantly reassess their required HIPAA Privacy and Security policies and safeguards as well as risks to PHI and ePHI.  In the event of a breach or audit, these organization’s leadership needs to ensure their organization can show both a strong commitment to HIPAA compliance and their actions to ensure their organization appropriately monitors events and developments that could impact the adequacy of their existing measures and timely update their systems and security, policies, procedures, training and other relevant safeguards.

The Settlement also makes clear that Covered Entities and their business associates should ensure that their organization possesses a well-documented current enterprise-wide risk assessment, as well as has in place and is administering as necessary to maintain the currency and adequacy of its risk assessment strong practices for conducting documented evaluations of their own HIPAA security, policies, practices, audits and investigations and other procedures necessary to comply with HIPAA, taking into account recent OCR guidance,  its initiation of its Phase II audit program, the insights offered by OCR’s ever growing list of enforcement actions and compliance tools, as well as changes in systems, documentation, software, equipment or other occurrences within the operations of the Covered Entity or business associate’s operations that could impact the currency and adequacy of its risk assessment or otherwise raise compliance risks.

In this respect, Covered Entities and business associates are encouraged to take special note of the advisability of specifically reviewing and updating their HIPAA policies, practices, business associate agreements, training, oversight and documentation to in response to the guidance and insight that OCR provides, including:;

Employer and other health plan sponsors, health plan fiduciaries and business associates, and their service providers also generally will want to consider their responsibilities to provide and enforce employer certifications, as well as the fiduciary obligations health plan fiduciaries under the fiduciary responsibility rules of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Among other things, wrongful disclosure of PHI to a sponsoring employer or others could violate HIPAA or other plan terms.  Furthermore, Department of Labor officials have indicated stated that a fiduciary’s general fiduciary responsibilities can apply to the protection and administration of PHI and other health plan information as well as create a duty by a responsible fiduciary to prudently investigate and take steps to address breaches or other potential concerns that place PHI at risk.  See, HIPAA Settlement Warns Health Plans, Sponsoring Employers & Business Associates To Manage HIPAA Risks.

Furthermore, as breaches of PHI and other violations of HIPAA also frequently give rise to responsibilities or risks under a broad range of other federal and state laws medical and financial privacy and data security, Medicare and other terms of federal program participation, medical credentialing, licensure and ethics, insurance and Employee Retirement Income Security Act fiduciary responsibilities in the case of health plans, contractual,  tort and other exposures, Covered Entities and their business associates also generally are best served to take into account these other responsibilities and exposures in conjunction with the design and administration of their HIPAA compliance and risk management policies and practices.

Covered Entities and their business associates also should seek advice from legal counsel regarding the adequacy of their compliance, investigatory, training, management oversight, training, reporting, documentation, document retention and other processes and procedures that could reduce risks of HIPAA violations and position the organization to effectively and more efficiently respond to a potential breach, audit, investigation or enforcement action and mitigate the costs and potential liability exposures that increasingly attends these events.  In addition, given the typically high financial, operational and legal costs typically incurred to conduct investigations, report and redress breaches, and respond to OCR audits or investigations, much less make any payments and implement any corrective actions required to settle OCR changes, most Covered Entities and their business associations will want to consider the advisability and adequacy of insurance and other sources of funding or indemnification for the often substantial costs that often attend a HIPAA breach, audit or enforcement event. Since HIPAA violations under certain circumstances also can give rise to felony criminal liability, boards of directors and other leaders of Covered Entities and business associates also will want to ensure that their HIPAA compliance policies and practices also are incorporated and monitored by management as part of their organization’s overall Federal Sentencing Guideline Compliance programs and practices.

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 and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for work, teachings and publications on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns earned in connection with her more than 28 years’ of involvement advising and representing business and government clients domestically and internationally about workforce and human resources, employee benefits; health care; insurance and financial; privacy and data security and other performance management, regulatory, internal controls and other compliance, risk management, public policy and operational other key concerns.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, past Group Chair and current Defined Contribution Plans Committee Co-Chair, Groups and Substantive Committee and Membership Committee Members, past Welfare Plans Committee Chair and Co-Chair, and former Fiduciary Responsibility Vice Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Section Employee Benefits Group, Vice Chair of the ABA Tort & Insurance Practice Section Employee Benefits Committee, current ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council Representative and Marketing Committee Chair and a prolific author and highly popular speaker and consultant, Ms. Stamer helps management manage.

Ms. Stamer’s legal and management consulting work throughout her nearly 30-year career has focused on helping organizations and their management use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk. Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer helps public and private, domestic and international businesses, governments, and other organizations and their leaders manage their employees, vendors and suppliers, and other workforce members, customers and other’ performance, compliance, compensation and benefits, operations, risks and liabilities, as well as to prevent, stabilize and cleanup workforce and other legal and operational crises large and small that arise in the course of operations.

Ms. Stamer works with businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. 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, 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 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, 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 contact Ms. Stamer via email 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.


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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Providers, Health Plans Should Confirm Copy Charges Comply With New OCR HIPAA Guidance

May 26, 2016

Healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses (Covered Entities) and their business associates should verify that their copying charges and other policies and practices for responding to requests of individuals for copies and other access to protected health information (PHI) comply with the Privacy and Security Rules (Privacy Rule) of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) as construed in a new Frequently Asked Question (FAQ published May 24, 2016 as follow up to two other sets of guidance about HIPAA assess rights published by the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) since January, 2016.

New OCR Guidance Sheds New Light On HIPAA Access Rule Requirements

The OCR FAQ titled New Clarification – Up to $6.50 Flat Rate Option published May 24, 2016 is the third in a series of guidance materials OCR discussing OCR’s interpretation of individuals’ core right under HIPAA to access and obtain a copy of their PHI from Covered Entities since January, 2016 (the “Access Rule”).   With  OCR Enforcement Data already showing Access Rule violations among the top 5 issues in cases investigated by OCR every year since HIPAA took effect in 2003, Covered Entities can expect OCR to include Access Rule violations among the Privacy Rule violations OCR likely will target as it continues to ramp up its HIPAA audit, investigation and enforcement efforts.

As part of its sweeping requirements concerning the use, access, protection and disclosure of PHI, the Access Rule provisions of the Privacy Rule generally require Covered Entities to provide individuals, upon request, with access to the protected health information (PHI) about them in one or more “designated record sets” maintained by or for the Covered Entity or its business associate.  This includes the right to inspect or obtain a copy, or both, of the PHI, as well as to direct the Covered Entity to transmit a copy to a designated person or entity of the individual’s choice as long as the Covered Entity or a business associate on its behalf maintains the PHI, regardless of the date the information was created; whether the information is maintained in paper or electronic systems onsite, remotely, or is archived; or where the PHI originated (e.g., whether the Covered Entity, another provider, the patient, etc.).

With its publication of the New Clarification FAQ on May 24, 2016, OCR now has published three pieces of guidance (the Access Guidance) about its interpretation of the Access Rule since January, 2016 that it hopes will promote greater understanding of and compliance with the Access Rule by Covered Entities:

  • In January, OCR published a comprehensive Fact Sheet (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;
  • On March 1, OCR published a second set of FAQs accessible here addressing when Covered Entities may charge individuals to provide requested copies of their PHI, how Covered Entities must calculate these fees, when Covered Entities must send an individual’s PHI to a third party designated by the individual in its request for copies, and other issues relating to access rights guaranteed by the Privacy Rule; and
  • On May 24, 2016 OCR clarified this prior Access Guidance by publishing another FAQ titled New Clarification – Up to $6.50 Flat Rate Option .

Collectively, the Access Guidance addresses a broad range of questions and issues about the responsibilities of Covered Entities under the Access Rule including what PHI Covered Entities must provide as well as detailed guidance about when and how much Covered Entities can charge individuals for requested copies of their PHI or summaries of their PHI.  Since the OCR Access Guidance may restrict the charge that health care providers or other Covered Entities can charge for copies or other access more than applicable state law rules,  Covered Entities need to verify their practices comply with OCR’s Access Guidance in addition to any applicable state law rules.  The Access Guidance makes clear that OCR expects Covered Entities and their business associates to ensure that their charges for copying or providing other access to PHI guaranteed by the Privacy Rule complies with this Access Guidance even if that practice does not violate applicable state law.

Are You Charging Too Much? Charges For Copies of PHI Must Meet OCR Privacy Rule Guidance 

Concerning charges for copies of PHI requested by an individual, Privacy Rule § 164.524(c)(4) permits a Covered Entity to impose a reasonable, cost-based fee if the individual requests a copy of the PHI (or agrees to receive a summary or explanation of the information) provided that the Covered Entity properly and timely notifies the individual of the cost and properly determines the cost in accordance with OCR guidance.

Many physicians or other health care providers that use electronic health records (EHRs) certified to allow individuals to access their PHI in the system may be unaware that OCR views the availability of electronic access from the EHR affects the health care provider’s ability to charge for copies of requested PHI.  OCR’s position is that the Privacy Rule prohibits a Covered Entity from charging an individual for requested copies of PHI when the request is fulfilled by the individual accessing the requested PHI using the View, Download, and Transmit functionality of the provider’s certified electronic health record.

Assuming the request for access or copies is not fulfilled through download from an HER, the Access Guidance indicates q Covered Entity must use one of three potentially applicable OCR-approved methods to calculate the fee the Covered Entity charges an individual for copies of PHI or an agreed upon summary provided that the method used takes into account only labor costs for copying or producing an agreed upon summary as defined by OCR.:

  • The “Actual Cost” Method;
  • The “Average Cost” Method; or
  • For electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically, the “Flat Fee” Method.

Charging a flat fee not to exceed $6.50 is an option available to those entities that do not want to go through the process of calculating actual or average costs for requests for electronic copies of PHI under either the Actual Cost or Average Cost Methods.  However, by its terms, the “Flat Fee” Method is only an allowable for Covered Entities to use to avoid calculating actual or average allowable costs when a Covered Entity is providing electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically (and presumably when the access request is not fulfilled through download from an EHR).  When applicable, the Flat Fee Method allows a Covered Entity to charge a flat fee for all requests for electronic copies of PHI maintained electronically, provided the fee does not exceed $6.50, inclusive of all labor, supplies, and any applicable postage.  The New Clarification – Up to $6.50 Flat Rate Option clarifies that use of the Flat Rate Method is permitted not required when a Covered Entity  provides copies of PHI maintained electronically other through download directly from a certified EHR. Covered Entities that wish to charge more than the $6.50 flat rate allowed under the Flat Rate Option retain the right, if the facts and evidence warrant, to use either the Actual Cost Method or Average Cost Method to calculate the fee for providing electronic records electronically within the boundaries of what is permissible under the Privacy Rule.

Where the Flat Fee Method is inapplicable or the Covered Entity elects not to use it, the Covered Entity must use either the Actual Cost Method or the Average Cost Method to calculate the fee in accordance with OCR’s rules.

Under the “Actual Cost Method,” a Covered Entity may calculate actual labor costs to fulfill the request, as long as the labor included is only for copying (and/or creating a summary or explanation if the individual chooses to receive a summary or explanation) and the labor rates used are reasonable for such activity. The Covered Entity may add to the actual labor costs any applicable supply (e.g., paper, or CD or USB drive) or postage costs. Covered Entities that charge individuals actual costs based on each individual access request still must be prepared to inform individuals in advance of the approximate fee that may be charged for providing the individual with a copy of her PHI. An example of an actual labor cost calculation would be to time how long it takes for the workforce member of the Covered Entity (or business associate) to make and send the copy in the form and format and manner requested or agreed to by the individual and multiply the time by the reasonable hourly rate of the person copying and sending the PHI. What is reasonable for purposes of an hourly rate will vary depending on the level of skill needed to create and transmit the copy in the manner requested or agreed to by the individual (e.g., administrative level labor to make and mail a paper copy versus more technical skill needed to convert and transmit the PHI in a particular electronic format);

Under the “Average Cost” Method, in lieu of calculating labor costs individually for each request, a Covered Entity can develop a schedule of costs for labor based on average labor costs to fulfill standard types of access requests, as long as the types of labor costs included are the ones which the Privacy Rule permits to be included in a fee (e.g., labor costs for copying but not for search and retrieval) and are reasonable. Covered Entities may add to that amount any applicable supply (e.g., paper, or CD or USB drive) or postage costs.    This standard rate can be calculated and charged as a per page fee only in cases where the PHI requested is maintained in paper form and the individual requests a paper copy of the PHI or asks that the paper PHI be scanned into an electronic format. However OCR’s guidance states that OCR does not consider per page fees for copies of PHI maintained electronically to be reasonable for purposes of 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4);

Whether using the Actual Cost Method or the Average Cost Method, a Covered Entity must only take into account only “reasonable labor costs associated only with the: (1) labor for copying the PHI requested by the individual, whether in paper or electronic form; and (2) labor to prepare an explanation or summary of the PHI, if the individual in advance both chooses to receive an explanation or summary and agrees to the fee that may be charged.

OCR’s guidance makes clear that the reasonability of the charges for labor must reflect the technology available for providing this access.  In this respect, OCR’s guidance states that a Covered Entity cannot charge a fee under HIPAA for individuals to access the PHI from a health care provider’s EHR technology that has been certified as being capable of making the PHI accessible.   OCR’s position is that where a Covered Entity fulfills an individual’s HIPAA access request by allowing the individual to access the requested PHI using the View, Download, and Transmit functionality of the provider’s certified electronic health record (CEHRT), an individual requests or agrees to access her PHI available through the View, Download, and Transmit functionality of the CEHRT, there are no labor costs and no costs for supplies to enable such access.

To the extent that access is not provided through an CEHRT, the fee a Covered Entity charges an individual to provide copies of requested PHI or an agreed upon summary may include only the cost of:

  • Copying the PHI; and
  • Preparation of an explanation or summary of the PHI, if agreed to by the individual.

As interpreted by OCR, labor for copying includes only labor for creating and delivering the electronic or paper copy in the form and format requested or agreed upon by the individual, once the PHI that is responsive to the request has been identified, retrieved or collected, compiled and/or collated, and is ready to be copied.  For example, labor for copying may include labor associated with the following, as necessary to copy and deliver the PHI in the form and format and manner requested or agreed to by the individual:

  • Labor for copying the PHI requested by the individual, whether in paper or electronic form;
  • Supplies for creating the paper copy or electronic media (e.g., CD or USB drive) if the individual requests that the electronic copy be provided on portable media;
  • Postage, when the individual requests that the copy, or the summary or explanation, be mailed; and
  • Creating and executing a mailing or e-mail with the responsive PHI.

See 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4).

The Access Guidance states the fee may not include costs associated with verification; documentation; searching for and retrieving the PHI; maintaining systems; recouping capital for data access, storage, or infrastructure; outsourcing the function of responding to individual requests for PHI copies or other costs not listed above even if such costs are authorized by State law.  See 45 CFR 164.524(c)(4).

Of course, in any case, OCR’s guidance makes clear that regardless of how a entity chooses to calculate its fee to copy PHI, the Privacy Rule requires that the Covered Entity inform the requesting individual in advance of the approximate fee that may be charged for providing the copy requested and otherwise comply with the Privacy Rule as interpreted by OCR’s latest guidance concerning providing individuals access to PHI and other requirements.

Documented, Timely Action Needed To Mitigate OCR Audit, Investigation & Enforcement Risks

Beyond operationally complying with the Access Guidance, Covered Entities and their business associates generally will want to update their policies, practices and training to position themselves to defend their calculation of any charges made for copies provided in response to a request for access protected by the Privacy Rule and other compliance with the requirements of that rule and the otherwise applicable provisions of HIPAA as well as include monitoring and enforcement of these requirements as part of their ongoing HIPAA compliance efforts.

These and other HIPAA compliance efforts are particularly critical in light of the expanding audit, investigation and enforcement activities of OCR under the Privacy Rule.  OCR’s publication of the Access Guidance coincides with a surge in OCR’s HIPAA audit, investigation and enforcement activities.

OCR’s publication of the new Access Guidance comes as OCR is ramping up its interpretation, oversight and enforcement of HIPAA generally.  See, Brace For OCR HIPAA Audits & Enforcement; Update Privacy Practices For New OCR HIPAA Enforcement, Security & Records Access Guidance.  While continuing to offer guidance like the Access Guidance and other tools to encourage and help Covered Entities and their business to understand and comply with the Privacy Rule, OCR also increasingly now uses the expanded penalties and authority created by the HITECH Act to punish Covered Entities for violating Privacy Rule requirements.  HITECH Act amendments, among other things, broadened the duties of OCR to audit, investigate and sanction HIPAA violations as well as tightened various requirements of the Privacy Rules.

The risks to Covered Entities from violating the Privacy Rules are significant and growing.  Since the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 (HITECH) amended HIPAA, Covered Entities and their business associates face heightened risks that violations of HIPAA will trigger liability to pay a Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) to OCR or other sanctions.  The two, multimillion dollar CMPs now imposed by OCR against two different Covered Entities caught violating the Privacy Rules only reflect a small part of OCR’s CMP enforcement.  Equally or perhaps more significant are the growing stream of high dollar settlement payments that an ever-growing list of Covered Entities to resolve OCR Privacy Rule violation charges that otherwise also might result in OCR’s assessment of a CMP against them.  See, e.g. $2 Million+ HIPAA Settlement, FAQ Warn Providers Protect PHI From Media, Other Recording Or Use; Provider Pays $750K To Settle HIPAA Business Associate Rule Breach Charges; North Memorial Hit With $3.9M HIPAA Fine For HIPAA Violations;  OCR’s 2nd-Ever HIPAA CMP Nails Lincare For $239,000; Lehey Pays $850K After Unencrypted Laptop Stolen.

These already substantial enforcement risks are likely to rise as OCR begins auditing the compliance of selected Covered Entities as part of its recently announced 2016 audit program.  As a result of audit requirements enacted as part of the HITECH Act, Covered Entities now need to be prepared to demonstrate the adequacy of their HIPAA compliance in case their organization becomes targeted for audit under OCR’s 2016 audit program.  Even if not selected for audit, however, Covered Entities and their business associates still face the risk that a complaint filed with OCR will trigger an OCR investigation of their practices for providing copies or other access or other compliance with the Privacy Rules.  In light of the growing aggressiveness of OCR’s enforcement, 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.  Consequently, Covered Entities and their business associates should move quickly to review and update their practices, communications and training to comply with this new Access Guidance as well as other guidance, enforcement and other developments that might impact the adequacy of their existing practices under the Privacy Rule generally.  Because of the risk that any review or investigation of the adequacy of its practices or complaints under the Privacy Rule will involve sensitive information or analysis, Covered Entities and their business associates are cautioned to consider the advisability of arranging for this analysis and review to be conducted within the scope of attorney-client privilege under the guidance of legal counsel experienced with the Privacy Rules and other related legal concerns.

 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, 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 clients, on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.CynthiaStamer.com, email Ms. Stamer cstamer@solutionslawyer.net or telephone her at (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 www.SolutionsLawPress.com such as:

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