Maintaining Current Enterprise Wide Security Risk Assessment Critical To Managing HIPAA Security Rule & Other Breach Risks


Following on the heels of Monday’s announcement that Anthem, Inc. is paying a record setting $16 million to resolve charges its violations of the enterprise risk assessment and other requirements of the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule allowed cybercriminals to breach the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of more than 79 million patients, physicians and other health care providers, health plans and health insurers, health care clearinghouses (covered entities) and their service providers acting as their business associates (business associates) (hereafter collectively “HIPAA Entities”) should reconfirm their own and their business associates’ compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule’s enterprise risk assessment and other ePHI security requirements. In addition, employer, union, association and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries should consider incorporating enterprise risk assessments of their health plans and its vendors as well as specific contractual assurance requirements into their business associate agreements to help mitigate their health plan related liabilities and risks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond these generally applicable breach related risks, health plan sponsors and fiduciaries also need to be concerned about potential fiduciary responsibility obligations of fiduciaries under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, plan and employer confidentiality requirements under the Internal Revenue Code, and other legal or contractual obligations to participants or employees, indemnification obligations to vendors and operational and trust disruptions that can result from a breach of sensitive health plan data or associated systems or records.  Meanwhile, third party administrators, insurers, brokers, consultants, accountants and other vendors also typically face their own unique their own unique licensure, ethics and contractual  responsibilities.

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

About The Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Stamer also has a lifelong history of involvement with and service with a diverse range of professional, community and charitable organizations and causes including as founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy and its PROJECT COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment; technical advisor to the National Physicians’ Council for Health Care Policy; a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence and its Patient Empowerment and Health Care Heroes Projects; a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; a member of the Dallas United Way Long Range Planning Committee; as well as leadership involvement in the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, the ABA Health Law Section, the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; TEGE Coordinator of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association; Dallas, Regional and State BACPAC Chair of the Texas Association of Business; SHRM Regional Chair and National Advisory Board Chair; WEB Network of Benefits Professionals National and Dallas Boards; as a contributing author and the Advisory Board member of the BNA EBCD CD, InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications and as chair or planning faculty of a multitude of symposia.. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see www.cynthiastamer.com, or contact Ms. Stamer via email here or via telephone to (214) 452.8297.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

 

 

 

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