$3.1M HIPAA Settlements in 1 Month Shows Risk Assessments Critical, But Often Inadequately Done

May 25, 2019

The $100,000 payment Medical Informatics Engineering, Inc. (MIE) has agreed to pay under a just-announced HIPAA Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“MIE Agreement”) with an Indiana health care information technology provider sends a clear warning to health care providers, health plans and insurers, health care clearinghouses (“covered entities””) and their business associate service providers (“business associates”)(collectively (“HIPAA entities”)to ensure they can prove they properly conduct and update documented security risk assessments verifying their systems adequately meet the medical data privacy security requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) or be prepared to pay when a breach happens.

Coming less than a month after the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced its collection of a $3 million settlement payment from a radiology provider that also allowed hackers to breach its electronic protected health information (ePHI) by failing to conduct and respond to HIPAA-required risk assessments, OCR’s announcement late yesterday of the MIE Agreement makes clear that HIPAA entities need to tighten their HIPAA risk assessment, documentation and other compliance practices.

The latest in a lengthening list of OCR enforcement actions identifying as a key violation the failure to maintain up to date risk assessments, the MIE Agreement between OCR and the Indiana based provider of software and electronic medical record services to healthcare providers resulted from an OCR investigation of MIE’s July 23, 2015 breach report that hackers had used a compromised user ID and password to access the electronic protected health information (ePHI) of approximately 3.5 million people. OCR’s investigation revealed that MIE did not conduct a comprehensive risk analysis prior to the breach.  To avoid potential prosecution by OCR for the breach, MIE agrees in the MIE Agreement to pay $100,000 to OCR, as well as to conduct a complete enterprise wide HIPAA risk assessment, to periodically update that risk assessment in accordance with the HIPAA rules and take other corrective actions to avoid potential prosecution by OCR for alleged violations of HIPAA’s Privacy and Security Rules.

Coming less than a month after OCR’s collection of a $3 million HIPAA resolution penalty from medical imaging provider Touchstone Medical Imaging where failure to conduct regular risk assessments was also identified as a violation, OCR’s announcement of the MIE Agreement sends a clear warning to other HIPAA covered entities and business associates not to make the same mistake. “Entities entrusted with medical records must be on guard against hackers,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “The failure to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities to ePHI opens the door to breaches and violates HIPAA.”

While the HIPAA Security Rules always have included and OCR’s high dollar enforcement actions consistently demonstrate the need to meet their obligation to conduct documented comprehensive enterprise risk assessments and to update those assessments on an ongoing basis in response to changes in systems, software, participants or other events creating the potential for threats to the security of ePHI and the systems that include them, most HIPAA entities fail to adequate appreciate the scope of this responsibility or the steps OCR expects them to take to fulfill this expectation.  Meanwhile, litigation and enforcement records resulting from heath care and other data breaches under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act and other federal and state privacy and data security rules also show the value and need for excellent, well-documented risk assessment and mitigation response to mitigate breach and other exposures.

While clearly necessary and valuable establishing appropriate requirements and processes for ensuring the conduct and documentation of these required assessments, managing the compliance and risks resulting from their findings, documenting this analysis and other actions needed while also balancing other operational, legal, and financial challenges is complex and challenging.  The legally, operationally and politically sensitive discussions require both management of compliance and risks arising from the administration of these responsibilities themselves and the dealing with vendors, patients, other providers and payers and the community make it highly advisable that management of HIPAA Entities involve experienced legal counsel throughout the process to utilize legal advice and attorney-client privilege and other evidentiary tools to help safeguard sensitive discussions in the course of this process and manage other risks.

If have questions or need more information about the risk assessment or other HIPAA requirements or other health care regulatory developments or their implications on your organization, contact the author.  You also are invited to stay abreast of these and other health care developments by participating in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group or COPE: Coalition On Patient Empowerment Group or Project COPE: Coalition on Patient Empowerment Facebook Page.

About the Author

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

Ms. Stamer’s legal, management, governmental affairs work and speaking and publications have focused on helping health industry, health benefit and other organizations and their management use the law, performance and risk management tools and process to manage people, performance, quality, compliance, operations and risk.

Heavily involved in health care and health information technology, data and related process and systems development, policy and operations innovation and a Scribe for ABA JCEB annual agency meeting with OCR for many years who has authored numerous highly-regarded works and training programs on HIPAA and other data security, privacy and use, Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her extensive work and leadership on leading edge health care and benefit policy and operational issues including meaningful use and EMR, billing and reimbursement, quality measurement and reimbursement, HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, trade secret, physician and other medical confidentiality and privacy, federal and state data security and data breach and other information privacy and data security rules and many other concerns. Her work includes both regulatory and public policy advocacy and thought leadership, as well as advising and representing a broad range of health industry and other clients about policy design, drafting, administration, business associate and other contracting, risk assessments, audits and other risk prevention and mitigation, investigation, reporting, mitigation and resolution of known or suspected violations or other incidents and responding to and defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, DOJ, OCR, FTC, state attorneys’ general and other federal or state agencies, other business partners, patients and others.

As a key part of 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. 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.

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, her involvement in assisting clients with HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns pre-dates the enactment of HIPAA and arises from her career-long health and managed care and insurance industry work.

Ms. Stamer’s clients include public and private, domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health facilities and systems; physicians, physician practices, and other health care providers; medical staff, and other provider organizations; managed care organizations, insurers, self-insured health plans and other payers; health care and insurance accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services, electronic medical record and other health information technology (IT) organizations; group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management providers and organizations; health and insurance industry consultants, investors; technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors and developers; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors;; and other health industry clients as well as a diverse array of other business and government entities. 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 operational compliance and risk management; strategic planning; product and services development and innovation; workforce and operations management: crisis preparedness and response; public and regulatory affairs and host of other concerns.

As part of this work, Ms. Stamer continuously advises 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.   She helps clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; comply with requirements, investigate and respond to OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Medicare and other HHS, Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, Insurance and other licensing agencies, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Labor, IRS, DOD, FTC, SEC, and other federal and state agencies; attorneys’ generals; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and others investigation and enforcement entities and actions.  Her experience includes advising, representing and defending these and other clients about risk management and compliance, breach and other liability investigation, mitigation and defense; contracting; process and product development, assessment, implementation and audit; contracting; commenting or seeking modification of legislation and regulatory guidance, and other regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; and a host of other projects and concerns.

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

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 former lead consultant to the Government of Bolivia on its Pension Privatization Project with extensive domestic and international public policy concerns in pensions, healthcare, workforce, immigration, tax, education and other areas, Ms. Stamer also continuously works with a diverse array of clients to monitor, shape and respond to federal and state legislative, regulatory, enforcement and other public policy and regulatory affairs concerns.  This work involves a steady diet of involvement with Congress, federal regulators and state legislative, regulatory and enforcement bodies dealing with cutting edge health and insurance legislation, regulation and enforcement throughout her 30 year career.

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

For more information about Ms. Stamer or experience publications, speaking, public advocacy or other involvements, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

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

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

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

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

©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™   For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.