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.


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